The College Party That’s Actually Sober

party-sober-2I drank plenty in college. Now I have two kids in college, a freshman and a senior, and I know they are doing the same. Rite of passage, way to unwind, liquid courage, social bonding–whatever the reason, legal or not, there is plenty of boozing taking place on college campuses across the country. Hard to believe but not everyone wants to get drunk in college.

When I read “Not the Usual Party (This One’s Sober),” by Jennifer Conlin, in last Sunday’s New York Times, I was relieved to discover that there are a growing number of college groups offering alternatives for kids who want to be and stay sober. There are, writes Conlin, 135 Collegiate Recovery communities on campuses in the U.S, and “While they vary in size from small student-run organizations to large embedded university programs, the aim is the same: to help students stay sober while also thriving in college.”

At places like University of Michigan, Texas Tech and Rutgers University, students can have access to substance-free living, lounges, parties, sober tailgates, dance parties, study groups and a trip with recovery students from other colleges called “Clean Break.” Drinking and college may be historically synonymous–now’s the time to think out of the box.


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College Drinking Then and Now

surviving_college-3026Like it or not, college life and drinking often go hand in hand. So what do you do, or think, or say when your own kid is soon to enter that four-year phase of alcohol meets academia? And will they really listen?

When I think back to my own college experience, the images that come to mind include lush green quads and the boundless energy of the students walking across them, the classes filled with youthful, eager faces (okay, not all so eager) and most certainly, the rousing football games with pitchers of bloody marys, the games of quarters and cheap beer, and the colorful jello shots that were a main attraction at many a late-night party.

Do I tell my daughters that nearly every night of the week, starting on tuesday, my crew of friends and I had a different bar we’d frequent once our studies were put to bed?

Times are different now. The legal drinking age isn’t 18, like it was when I was in college, and it seems that any level of moderation college drinkingwent out the window with the younger drinking age. Binge drinking is a big problem for college kids. So are incidents of sexual abuse, drunk driving, assault and death. (For a more elaborate list, check out A Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences.)

“On average, college students in the U.S. purchase an estimated 430 million gallons of alcoholic beverages, including 4 billion cans of beer annually,” reports an article titled, How Much Drinking is too Much for Students? in Marshall University’s newspaper.

Those are pretty astounding numbers.

My older daughter just finished her sophomore year at college, and has adjusted to the so-called drinking life that seems inevitable on nearly every campus. I’d like to think we taught her how to make smart choices and sound decisions. I have another daughter who’s got one year to go before she, too, is off to college. I’ll just have to hope that when my younger one goes off to school, she’ll use her brain both in class and at parties. And that like her sister, she’ll be good to her brain and body. It’d be naive to think that her college experience will be alcohol-free. And that’s okay. I hope.

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When Your Friend Is An Alcoholic

girls-drinkingby Ronna Benjamin

My friend Tammy had troubles, but it took me awhile to figure it out. She was a redhead who smoked menthols, loved music, dancing and beer.  Her father was a judge–a real one, but she herself was totally non-judgmental.

Tammy was the friend that held the ice to my ear Freshman year and then pierced a second hole in my left lobe, sterilizing the needle with the alcohol from our sloe gin fizzes.  She would drag me to frat parties,  grab a beer and start dancing, while I stood awkwardly in a corner complaining about the sticky floor.

I was one of the girls who left the party early, but Tammy always stayed and regaled us with great stories the next day. But as we got to be juniors and then seniors, the stories became increasingly uncomfortable to hear. There were times she slept with multiple men in one evening.  There were times when she blacked out.  There were times she woke up in places she did not want to be.

There was the time she came back to the dorm drunk at 3:00 am and burnt half her arm making popcorn.  There was the time she tearily told me she was pregnant, traces of gin on her breath, and pleaded with me to bring her to Planned Parenthood. I had driven halfway there the next day before she told me it wasn’t true–she wasn’t pregnant.  Never was.  It  was just her idea of a joke.  That almost ended our friendship, but I hung in there.

I knew there was something different about what happened when Tammy drank, but I wanted to be non judgmental too.  By day and on weeknights, Tammy was fine.  She studied, went to movies and plays, joined us for dinner, and did really well in her classes.  I thought once we graduated and she got a job, things would be different.  We were in college, after all.

In 1981, Tammy came to visit me at my apartment in Boston where I was in my first year of law school.  We went out on the town, but after a while, I wanted to go home.  She insisted I leave; told me she was having fun and would take a cab home.  Tammy got home safely in the early hours of the morning; but the next day she told me she had shared a bottle of vodka and slept with the cab driver.

And that is when I ended the friendship.

Telling Tammy that I thought she was an alcoholic was the hardest thing I ever did as a young woman, and amongst the hardest things that I have ever had to do.  I didn’t have the balls to tell her in person.  I called her from the safety of my bedroom, reading the words off a legal pad because I was so nervous. “Tammy, I think you have a problem with alcohol.  I think you are an alcoholic, and I cannot be friends with you until you get help.”  I described some of her behaviors that made me think so.  I described the hurt and worry she was causing me.  She said nothing, and hung up.

That was 32 years ago, and that was the last time I talked to Tammy, but it wasn’t the last time I thought about her.  As the years passed, I Googled her name.  Tammy was the first name I searched on Facebook.  One day, about a year ago, she “friended” me.  I barely recognized her picture, she had aged so. We had a brief FB exchange, but neither of us mentioned the alcohol.

A few months later, Tammy started a game with me on Words With Friends.  And I knew from those games that something wasn’t quite right.  She couldn’t get beyond 13 points.  She left spaces for triple words open.

I was waiting for Tammy to take her turn on Words With Friends when I read on Facebook that Tammy had died.  She was 53 and died “unexpectedly.”  I was not in her inner circle, so I don’t know the details of her death, and it was not my place to push. I was saddened, but to be honest, not shocked.

I had an alcoholic friend in college.  I told her the truth, abandoned her, and she died at 53.  I wonder now if I should have done something differently.

*This essay was originally published on


Beware of “Texts from Last Night”

Texts from Last NightLeave it to my college kid to enlighten me about the website, Texts from Last Night. I’m not sure why, but it seems that the website has a large following–enough that it has spawned a book with the same title–wholly devoted to the strange things people text as the night goes on. Not surprisingly, alcohol (and drugs) are involved in many a late night text.

For example, a random sampling from the website included the following texts:

“The best part about drinking boxed wine is you can blow up the bag and use it as a pillow.”

“Let the vodka take you where it will. Like Pocahontas, but wasted.”

“Its ok, the prom king gave me his crown to puke in.”

“Hurry up this bar wont let me order big pitchers of beer for just myself.”

“I just hope my dad was drunk enough to not remember the whole convo we had about anal.”

“The weed is temporarily burning the grammar section of my brain library.”

And my personal favorite: “Him being a republican bothers me way more than his coke problem.”

Perusing the site, I was able to search texts by area code and categories such as “Best,” “Worst,” and “Random.” Not surprisingly, the most common theme after booze/drugs is sex.texting

Here’s a bit on how the founders describe their mission:

Texts From Last Night (TFLN) was founded in February 2009 by two friends for reasons that may or may not include: the tendency to press send more easily as the night turns to morning, friends’ social habits, disgraced government officials, exes, law school, closing down bars and leaving tabs open, general debauchery and/or a common disgust for all the negativity surrounding the ‘sexting’ phenomenon.

We prefer texts, not conversations. We reserve the right to post portions of conversations without duplicating the entire thing. It’s not because the entire thing isn’t funny, but the funniest texts are those we can all relate to, so without the context of the conversation, they become really funny.

Our goal was to create a site that was revealing in nature while concealing the identity of everyone involved. This is why we only ask for an area code to accompany your text messages.

We don’t want texts that are offensive to the point of being viciously personal, racist, exceedingly profane, violent or excessively graphic in nature. It’s a very hard thing to judge, but we’ll do our best.

In this day and age, we know that little is sacred in the way of information. After reading through the texts posted in recent days on this website, I felt the need to warn our readers that booze, too, can burn the grammar section of your brain library. And even worse, your text–once intended for a specific recipient–may end up featured the following day in the “Best” or “Worst” sections of the Texts from Last Night.

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Presidential Debates Spur New Drinking Games

If you have a kid in college, chances are she’ll be all ears while watching the second presidential debate on October 16. She may be listening particularly closely to key words and phrases, such as “Obamacare” and “Al Qaeda.” Her focus, however, will not be intended for note taking or reporting back to her Poli Sci professor about diverging opinions on healthcare and homeland security. Rather, she’ll be listening for her cue to down a vodka shot or swig from a gin and tonic.

When I heard about the latest round of debate drinking games, my first thought was how my seventh grader likely came away from the first presidential showdown with more knowledge than my college sophomore. She just probably woke up with a hangover. And my second thought–I probably would’ve been doing the exact same thing back in 1980-something. Or maybe I did and just don’t remember.

In any event, there’s more debate drinking to be done with both the upcoming Vice Presidential debate and the next Obama v. Romney face-off at Hofstra University.

The College Humor site had a long list of potential drinking cues, and even a couple that involve abstaining. Here are some highlights:

• Take a sip every time Obama starts a sentence with “Look…”

• Take a sip every time Mitt Romney awkwardly chuckles.

• Take a sip every time a candidate refers to his wife.

• Politely refrain from drinking every time Mormonism is mentioned.

• Get your infrared goggles and chug in the dark every time the killing of Osama bin Laden is mentioned.

• Take two sips every time Romney mispronounces a black or Hispanic person’s name.

• Take a shot and then two more any time Mitt Romney makes a genuinely funny joke.

• If you agree with everything a particular candidate says, finish your Kool-Aid.

You get the picture. All I know is that come October 16th, I’ll likely be counting the number of times the candidates mention their wives or the term Mormonism, hoping my daughter is safely studying in the library rather than “watching” the debate.

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