Alcohol culture can be a persistent hellish nightmare for teetotalers (those who make a personal choice not to drink) like myself. I am not of legal drinking age, but it isn’t hard for anyone my age to find a party. However, as a teetotaler, I can confidently say I haven’t and will not drink throughout the remainder of my undergraduate years, and likely even after college.
That’s not going to be easy. It’s baffling how little the presence of alcohol is considered during social events, public or private. For teetotalers, it seems to be everywhere; the presence of alcohol can seriously inhibit our social habits and how many friends we have, especially in college.
At the very worst, we have people questioning us about our religion or family while trying to spike our drinks because they “obviously” know better than us about “loosening up” with regard to something we disagree with. Luckily, my experiences at Case Western Reserve University with alcohol culture hasn’t been too harmful. Most people are respectful.
That does not dispel the remaining issues with abstaining from alcohol. Drinking is so common for social interactions that there will seem to be a wall that separates you from everyone else. No one wants to bother you lest they risk the possibility of being lectured, so most people generally don’t talk to you. If they do, they are probably already your friend. Unless, of course, you are lying to fit in and pretending to drink to help others approach you under false pretenses.
If you are one of the more comfortable teetotalers and can be around alcohol and those partaking, congratulations: You’ve probably already figured out how to act and be okay in those situations.
I, however, am too squirrely to be around alcohol at all; it’s much harder to cope. If you are like me, you’ll simply have a hard time being around people who drink, even the light drinkers; you remain uncomfortable. You physically alienate yourself and feel awful because you are then truly alone with the knowledge that your friends are out having a good time without you.
It’s depressing when you get to that point. You still care about your friends or about missing an opportunity to make new ones. It’s more compromising and harder on you, however, to be at that type of social event than to be alone.
The most common complaint from teetotalers who do attend wet events is that they are almost always assigned the coveted designated driver title. If you don’t mind driving your friends every now and again, that’s great, but no one wants to drive everyone to and from parties all the time.
If you do, you’ll likely have to take care of their drunk, possibly vomiting friends every single time. Those who drink should be kind to their abstaining friend and give them the night off at least half the time. Otherwise you are being selfish and heavily inconveniencing your friend.
One of the best things you can do is find a friend you can hang out with that shares your teetotaler ideology. This can be a designated driver buddy for the bold or just someone to share the evening with. Though many websites recommend finding a friend that does partake, but takes the night off for you, that’s simply inconveniencing that friend.
Even if a friend agrees to abstain for the night, they might break that abstinence at some point. That is understandable and I think it’s okay for a friend to do that. You need to realize that you will eventually be left without company. Simply, if you have a friend that shares the same ideology, it’s easier on everyone.
If you can’t find a friend, I find treating yourself to engrossing pleasures is the best way to spend time when others are drinking. Edging towards the more boring side of the scale, I prefer to drink my Mexican coke and replaying episodes of the 1995 BBC five-and-a-half-hour rendition of “Pride and Prejudice.” My method may not be for everyone, but it keeps my mind away from my friends and on the lovely Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
For your method, find something that takes all of your attention, like a movie or a hockey game, if that’s your preference. Treat yourself to sugary-anything and a meal at a restaurant you’ve been dying to try. Fill in a coloring book, create elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, learn a programming language. Do something that you honestly enjoy.
You care about your friends and they care about you, but just as you aren’t required to drink, they aren’t required to abstain. You need to find your own way of handling the alcohol issue. Over time, your reactions might change, and so might your coping mechanisms.
For now, especially in college, it’s imperative to learn how to deal with choosing a minority position in a widespread culture.
Kate Rasberry is a second-year student.
Update Feb. 22, 2016, 4:33 p.m.: The discussion of persons who don’t drink alcohol but attend parties was made specific to those comfortable with alcohol. The discussion of finding a friend who doesn’t drink alcohol was changed to reflect party attendance vs. other activities as possibilities. The discussion of the designated driver was changed to include frequency of the activity.