I can't feel my legs. I have no legs!
I have always viewed drinking as a social activity, not an individual activity and there was a very definitive time in my life where this all began. In the fall of 1994 I was 18 years old and my life could be summed up by one of the most famous scenes from Animal House when Bluto says to Flounder, “My advice to you…is to start drinking. Heavily.” 1994-1998 was four years of serious college binge drinking.
Prior to 1994, I wasn’t overly curious about alcohol even though I grew up exposed to it. My parents were social drinkers, we always had alcohol in the house and it was always free flowing at family holidays and parties. Looking back, even though alcohol was readily available, I didn’t have much of a desire to try drinking. I am fairly certain my parents made it clear that alcohol was for adults only but I don’t think they ever really made booze the forbidden fruit. Had they done that I think it would have only enhanced it’s appeal. I appreciate that my parents took the approach to demystify alcohol because I think it actually made me care less about it at a young age.
My first official taste of alcohol was probably when I was in 7thgrade. I had a friend sleep over and after my parents went to bed we went to their liquor cabinet in the kitchen and took a bottle. We ended up grabbing the first bottle we could reach which was Gin. We went into the basement and I remember we each tried a tiny bit- probably less than half a shot glass. It certainly was a blessing that we grabbed the Gin bottle because that has to be the worst tasting alcohol ever produced! Ironically, when I went to sneak the bottle back into the cabinet there was a hand written note inside that said, “Jessie, don’t touch another drop”. I almost died in that moment, but I put the bottle back and I was grateful that my mom didn't make a big scene when I had a friend over. Guess what? I didn’t touch another drop of alcohol for three years. This was an interesting parenting approach that some may criticize but I think it was brilliant and it worked for me.
I was definitely not innocent in high school but I was not a partier and I didn’t really ever drink. I threw one party my sophomore year and I don’t even think I drank at that party because I spent most of the night crying to my boyfriend about all of the crazy stuff everyone else was doing. I remember having a couple beers here and there my senior year but nothing that ever made me buzzed or drunk. I am an epic rule follower to this day, and I probably didn't drink in high school because I was too afraid of getting caught. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, or have to deal with consequences. I was also involved in an extra curricular activity and did not want to jeopardize that. It also really helped that my friends made similar choices so I didn’t have too much peer pressure going on back then.
The came August of 1994. I left home and entered the exciting world of college where it seemed like it was a rite of passage to get drunk. My first week at college was like a scene from the movie Can’t Hardly Wait when the character William Lichter finds his way into a graduation party with the cool kids, where he has his first beer. He then blows the roof off while singing “Paradise City”. He also gets so drunk he starts making out with girls and exclaims that he can’t feel his legs.
College partying to me was all about getting drunk. Drinking always started on Thursday nights and lasted thru the weekend. Many nights we had be “drunk enough” before we could even go out which means we would “pregame” in our dorm rooms first, before moving on to apartment parties, house parties, frat parties and bars. After drinking for hours on end we would stagger home, consume ridiculous amounts of food and pass out. I proudly displayed my fake ID at bars (thanks to my dear older sister!) and felt a surge of adrenaline when the bouncer let me in. I remember covering a wall in my dorm room with empty beer cans like a proud display of my college coolness. Drinking was definitely a ritual that I saw as an integral part of my college experience.
Research from the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) fact sheet on college drinking indicates that about 72% of people have a single period of heavy drinking in their life that lasts on average 3-4 years, and then they may mature out of it. This period peaks between the ages of 18-24 and most often occurs during college. Research also shows that excessive binge drinking in college leads to deaths, accidents, sexual assault, academic issues, issues with law enforcement, and physical injuries.
So why did I make the choice to binge drink all through college? I suppose I was curious about the effects of a buzz by that point. Drinking was culturally normalized, easy to get, I thought everyone was doing it, and I expected a good experience from what I had seen on TV and heard from my older sister and friends. After high school, I no longer had my comforting group of friends who shared similar social values and found myself feeling more of a need to fit in. Constant partying was a bonding ritual and I definitely built a camaraderie with friends when we said stupid and funny things, helped each other stumble home, and held hair when someone was puking over a toilet. All of the shenanigans from the weekend drinking gave us things to talk about all week long. Getting a fake ID somehow made me feel like an adult and it made drinking more of an adventure. I definitely felt sexier when I was buzzed and guys sure seemed hotter the more I drank. Ultimately, drinking was just something to do in college.
I was lucky that I never really drank to cope with academics and pressure and that drinking was purely social for me. I was lucky that I didn’t have any of the serious dangers of college drinking described earlier. I was really lucky that this binge drinking was just a phase that I matured out of.
While I may have stopped seriously binge drinking after I graduated college I have to assume that it was this phase in my life that ultimately has caused me to continue socially drinking into my adulthood. College was obviously a big part of creating my paradigm that drinking is a necessary part of every social activity. I am working on creating a new paradigm this year.
Long gone are the Animal House days and William Lichter’s “I can’t feel my legs, I have no legs” days!