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The Michigan Daily > Columns

Destigmatize sober fun

November 20, 2017

It’s gameday, and I walk into a tailgate and am immediately handed a beer — a substance that would shut down all my internal organs from just a sip. All my friends have pre-gamed the pre-game, and I know it’s just the security guards and me who are sober right now. I love to dance and have fun with my friends, but I can’t help but feel as if I am missing out on something so essential to the college experience: drinking.

When I first arrived on campus, I didn’t think my allergy to alcohol would make me stand out from my peers. In high school, I had many friends and many who drank, but it didn’t affect me. I didn’t think college would be any different, and at first, it wasn’t.

The more and more I went to parties, however, the more I felt uncomfortable. I joined a sorority, only to drop a week later under the pressure of alcohol-dominated activities I could not keep up with. Being in an environment where all social gatherings revolve around getting drunk and drinking with your friends makes it hard for me to feel safe.

Every club I have joined and every organization I have been a part of during my time at the University of Michigan has mentioned something about working hard but “don’t worry, we like to party too.” Great! Me too! But not when it involves projectile vomit, watching people who literally cannot stand up and emergency 911 calls when someone has had too much.

As many of us know, and as various studies have shown, consumption of alcohol affects one’s decision-making process. Interestingly, a University of Missouri study found that most people are aware of the decisions they make while they are drunk, and even when they’re making a mistake, but they do not care as much that they’re making a mistake. The more people choose to drink during their crazy night out, the more the negative consequences will affect them the next morning. They might lose motivation to go to class, fail an exam or get into an argument with a roommate.

The atmosphere surrounding drinking on campus inhibits students from taking care of their bodies and convinces them they won’t have an enjoyable experience without a drink in hand. It is astounding to recognize the immense priority alcohol has on this campus.

Why have we set such a standard for college students to be so pressured to binge-drink a substance that can ultimately kill any one of us, not just those of us with an allergy? The high pressure and stress that comes along with being a student at the University encourage students to “crack a cold one with the boys” when they are feeling upset or having a shitty day.

Is that because they’re too afraid to actually express their feelings about their shitty day and turn to alcohol instead? To get their mind off something that needs to be talked about? Using alcohol as a way to escape will only last so long for drinkers. There will come a point when they have to face their problems for what they are and have real-time conversations about them.

Is the reason we have fun on this campus just because everyone is so stressed, and we think binge drinking will solve all our problems? I challenge everyone at this University to take a look at the standard social event that they routinely attend, and try to make it into something that focuses on having fun by being there, not just on the activity they are doing.

I have faced the many repercussions that come with not partaking in the activity everyone else seems to be doing. My relationships with the friends I felt closest to at this University dissolved because I wasn’t interested in having beer spilled on my body every time I went to a fraternity party. The rampant party culture that surrounds this campus needs to change. People should feel comfortable to make the decision to not drink and not be judged for it. I have felt othered so many times by choosing not to put a poison in my body.

 

Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy going to parties where everyone drinks, but the priority our campus community creates through a binge-drinking culture promotes the idea that you can’t have fun while not drinking. The resulting stigma discourages individuals who are not comfortable with drinking and they end up staying in, instead of exploring the incredible place we live, having a good time and meeting new people.

 

I have found the people I enjoy going out with, I have friends who care about me and watch out for me at parties. I truly believe we all need friends looking out for us, and I am so grateful for mine. But until we remove the stigma that promotes the notion that you have to drink to have fun, we eliminate opportunities for nondrinkers to feel welcome and included. You don’t have to be “black-out” to have a good time going out.

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