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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Would You Let Your Teens Drink In Your House?

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Most of us can remember going to parties in high school. I didn’t drink then, but I still ended up at my fair share of parties, and believe me, drinking was happening and it was in someone’s parents’ house. I never, ever saw the parents, so were they all away, a la Risky Business? Supposedly, things were more lax back in the 80s, when I was growing up. But is that really true? There were parties in people’s houses then, and there are parties now.

It’s a fairly commonly held belief among parents that if you let your teens drink in your house, you are keeping them safer by knowing where they are and what they’re doing. But what about this scenario:  A doctor and his wife were charged with giving alcohol to minors and corruption of minors after a party at their house. The police officers who ended up at the house rounded up nine teenagers in the basement, where they found beer bottles and cans, a plastic beer bong, a “beer pong table,” and joints. The parents said they allowed their 17-year-old son to host parties at the house and emphasized that they did not let any of the underage drinkers drive home.

In an article in The Pittsburgh Tribune, Carnegie Mellon University police Chief Tom Ogden said this about parents: “They say, ‘Oh, just drink in the basement, but it’s stupid, it’s irresponsible, and it’s criminal. It’s a problem with the attitudes of these parents. Rather than tell their kids no and hold them accountable for their actions, they try to be their cool friends.”

Another policeman, Officer McDonough said, “They think because the kids are drinking in the basement that everything is fine, but how are they going to keep track of all those kids? And if one leaves and gets into a DUI crash, now innocent lives are being affected.”

Whether you do or do not let them drink in your house, teens will gather, and alcohol might or might not be involved. What is your stance regarding your (or other people’s) underage teens? Would you let your teens drink with their friends in your house? Would you host a party and if you did, would you stand there, monitoring everyone? This is one of those hot-button, no-win topics, it would seem…What do you think?  (As a postscript, I wonder how this issue plays out–or doesn’t–in other countries. Think of France, where teens have been sipping wine since they were kids. Would their parents get arrested for underage drinking? It almost makes one wonder if the drinking age doesn’t create certain problems of forbidden fruit…)

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How Culture & Ethnicity Shape Our Drinking Habits

Who drinks more, and more often: African American teens or white teens? It’s easy to make speculations based on stereotypes or our personal experiences, but what about actual data?

According to a 2011 study by researchers at Duke University (which analyzed data from 72,561 young people, aged 12 to 17), white, American Indian and Hispanic teens all had higher rates of drug and alcohol use than African American (and Asian) teens.

What was unclear from that study was why African American teens drink less than their white counterparts—something that researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have sought to understand.

They call it the Tween to Teen project—wherein researchers followed 400 8 to 10 year olds for 7 and a half years—in order to determine if race affects personality traits, which in turn may affect drinking habits.

What they found was this: White teens are more prone to thrill-seeking, which is associated with high alcohol use, while African American teens are more impulsive.

This seems a bit confusing, since impulsivity would seem to lead to a what-the-hell attitude toward drinking. Also confounding is the fact that while African American teens drink less, they have more alcohol-related problems than their white counterparts. This points to possible economic influences on drinking behaviors and outcomes.

And then there’s culture, which also plays a significant role in drinking habits.

As reported in Medical Express, Sarah L. Pedersen, one of the study’s authors, said: “Studies have shown that the African American culture may hold more conservative views about drinking compared to the majority culture in the United States. For example, African American adolescents may feel that their parents and friends disapprove of their drinking more than their European American counterparts.”

So what does this mean for the layperson, trying to interpret the study? Drinking habits and outcomes can’t just be traced to fixed characteristics such as race—or personality. Rather, they are formed through a complex interaction of factors, including culture and economics.

When delivering anti-drinking messages to tweens and teens, cultural and racial differences should be taken into account. It’s not a one-size-fits-all message.

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Interview with Chloe Caldwell, Author of The Essay Collection, “Legs Get Led Astray”

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you. 

Chloe Caldwell is the author of the essay collection, Legs Get Led AstrayHer non-fiction has appeared in The Rumpus, Nylon Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Chronogram, The Frisky, The Sun Magazine, SMITH Magazine, Jewcy, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Freerange Nonfiction and The Faster Times.She is the founder and curator of the Hudson River Loft Reading Series and has taught Creative Writing workshops at Omega Teen Camp, The Hudson Opera House, and Crow Arts Manor. Chloe splits her time living in upstate New York and Portland, Oregon.

 Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Chloe Caldwell: I tried sips of my dad’s beer as a kid, I’m pretty sure. Maybe around age nine. When I was twelve-ish, I had a bunch of girlfriends sleep over and we snuck into the pantry and drank some disgusting expired spirits. Or maybe we were just drinking balsamic vinegar.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My parents both drink, but we never had an alcoholism problem in our family. Sometimes my dad will drink a beer with dinner, sometimes he won’t. My mom likes her red wine and nothing else. There’s always a decent amount of alcohol at family gatherings.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

I try to be smart. I’ll ask myself if I really feel like drinking. This is new for me. I used to just drink more than I should. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I’m trying to be more mindful in everything I do–drinking and eating, especially.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I drank the most when I was twenty-one through twenty-three. It’s when I was living in New York City, and I was drinking something of a disgusting amount of mixed drinks most days and nights.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Red wine. It relaxes me. Holy shit, I sound exactly like my mom.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I’ve had lots of good times drinking. But in truth, I think the best time drinking I’ve ever had was in high school. My senior class was really tight and on Friday and Saturday nights we’d always go to a  boy named Lars’s barn, to hang out. The barn was empty except for a large mirror covering one wall. We danced for hours to Kanye West and Eminem and R.Kelly and drank Budweiser and Coors Lite.

What about the worst time?

Any time I cry in public or act like an aggressive douche-bag.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

I would like to read Are You There Vodka? It’s me Chelsea. I like when Elliott Smith sings, “With an open container from Seven Eleven…” and when Connor Oberst sings, “Cause there’s this switch that gets hit and it all stops making sense and in the middle of drinks maybe the fifth or sixth, I’m completely alone at a table of friends…I feel nothing for them, I feel nothing, nothing.” And Hush Arbors have a song where they sing, “There’s whiskey in that bottle and blood on the floor..”

What do you like most about drinking?

That it changes me.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I think any time we use a substance, be it coffee, alcohol, or drugs, it’s to escape ourselves a little bit. Like in The Lemonheads song “Drug Buddy” he sings, “I’m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else.”


Starbucks Moving from Coffee to Cabernet–What Do We Think?

A couple of weeks ago, Starbucks—with 10,700 U.S. stores—announced that it will be serving wine and beer (and savory snacks) in a handful of locations in Atlanta and Southern California by the end of the year. These locations join plans for several coffee-cum-bar Starbucks in Chicago, and the already five existing coffee/bars in the company’s hometown, Seattle, and one in Portland.

Apparently, the change in the coffee-only focus is a response to customer feedback for additional options to relax in Starbucks’ coffee houses. “As our customers transition from work to home, many are looking for a warm and inviting place to unwind and connect with the people they care about,” said Clarice Turner, Starbucks’ senior vice president, U.S. Operations in a release. “At select stores where it is relevant for the neighborhood, we are focused on creating an atmosphere where our customers can relax with a friend, a small bite to eat and a cup of coffee or glass of wine.”

After the decision to roll out the booze to other cities, Poll Position conducted a phone survey of 1,113 registered voters and asked the following: Starbucks is beginning to serve beer and wine in some of its stores.  Do you think that it is appropriate for Starbucks to serve beer and wine?

Respondents were divided with 39 percent saying yes, 39 percent saying no and 22 percent describing themselves as undecided. The poll’s administrators said men and women were divided on whether selling beer and wine is a good move for Starbucks.

Not surprisingly, men favored Starbucks selling beer and wine 49%-34%, while women opposed it 45%-30%.

After reading these results, I decided to take a poll of my own. I asked about 50 people, both men and women, ranging in age from 15 to 75, what they thought about Starbucks’ transformation.

Some were opposed to the idea because of how alcohol will change the coffee-house atmosphere:

“I don’t like it.  Starbucks has a certain vibe that doesn’t include people getting buzzed on alcohol.”

“I like the café experience, sitting there and reading. I don’t want my café to be my local pub also.”

“I think it goes against the environment that Starbucks tries to give off which is a warm, friendly coffee shop. If you start selling alcohol it will lose its peaceful sense.”

“For me, the two don’t mix well–Starbucks is a spot to go for coffee during the day and, at least for now, I still adhere to the 5:00 cocktail rule!”

Some liked the idea of moving towards the European model:

“It recasts Starbucks more in the mold of a European café.  Cappuccino in the morning, Prosecco by night.”

“In Europe, you see coffee bars also selling wine. Starbucks provides a sense of community, a gathering place, and wine always goes with that. The only thing is, I think they’d need to adapt the decor/atmosphere–less utilitarian, more luxe, sexier lighting perhaps. And music.”

“Kids in america are underexposed to alcohol in a ‘part of life’ way.  It can be a good thing to have it around in a place which is not a bar where people act more responsibly…My theory is the more it is not a big deal, the less the kids will make a big deal.

Some expressed concern about teens:

“I think it is horrible. Starbucks is, for some kids, a safe haven, and I’m not sure why they need to introduce alcohol into the mix.”

“As long as they are checking IDs, I’m fine with it.”

“I’m concerned because so many young people are already abusing the amount of caffeine they consume in a day. Then add the temptation of alcohol (and how easy it is to get a fake ID to purchase it).”

“So long as they carefully monitor minors, I see no problem in expanding the line. Having said that, there was something cozy and wholesome about having a non-mood altering zone there.”

There are those who try to stay away from alcohol:

“Total turnoff.  You go there for the calm, for the sip on coffee, open your laptop feel. Not to get drunk.”

“I think selling beer and wine essentially makes Starbucks into a bar—so many people in recovery try so hard to stay out of bars (and we spend a lot of time in coffee houses!)”

“The other night, around 5 pm, I had some time to kill in NYC before meeting friends for dinner, and I didn’t want to go into a bar alone but I thought a glass of wine might be nice. I chose Starbucks instead, and got coffee but fantasized about wine. Still–I think there should be some alcohol-free zones, so I’m on the fence, leaning toward compassion for those who need not to be around it!”

Some just feel strongly:

“I think it is a big mistake. It would probably make me boycott the company whose stores I am currently in about two times a day.”

“I think wine fits more with an upscale coffee store; perhaps select beers, but Bud at Starbucks makes no sense—might as well buy eggs and milk too.”

“I’m fine with it. It broadens their business opportunity and should help strengthen sales,  something all enterprises could use these days.”

“I wholeheartedly support their decision, feels a bit more like the European relationship to wine and beer — normalizes the place of these drinks in our culture.”

There are those who cover all the bases:

“My initial reaction was, “Oh no!”  I suppose I feel that way because I view Starbucks as a calm and peaceful place to read the paper and meet friends while enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea.  I suppose in some sense that a nice glass of wine or beer would not detract from that experience.  In fact, many people would enjoy a good read or conversation with a glass of wine or beer.  I suppose it is the other problems associated with alcohol that concern me — over-consumption, under-age drinking, and the trouble that accompanies those things that puts doubt in my mind as to why this is necessary.  I like Starbucks just the way it is.  I would prefer to go elsewhere for my glass of wine. I am sure this decision by Starbucks is economically motivated to increase sales by capturing a new group of consumers.  I guess I keep thinking that I like Starbucks just the way it is and if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

And those that think, why not?

“When people get hung over, they can switch to coffee. With wars and the economy, it is such a minor thing.”

“We do not have prohibition any longer and live in a free market society, so they should be allowed to sell beer and wine.”

Needless to say, the subject of coffee houses morphing into bars is a loaded one. It seems a risky move for Starbucks, but only time will tell how the new metropolitan “coffee/bars” will be received. As far as I’m concerned, a few hours of work while sipping a latte is nice, but so is capping the afternoon with a glass of cabernet. It’s important that teens have a place to congregate, so maybe they can head to the diner, or one of the frozen yogurt places now cropping up on every corner.

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