Friday, January 7, 2011

The Non-Drinking Culture

Drinking Party
I don't like mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup, and I think that really defines me as a person.  It's a rejection of our condiment-obsessed society.  My goal is to start an entire subculture for people who don't like condiments, a culture where people will have different tastes in music, clothes, and how to spend their weekends than people who do like condiments.  An entire culture held together by our common dislike of one particular thing - doesn't that sound like a brilliant idea?

What does it mean not to drink?  I would think that not drinking, or being chem-free, should just mean that you don't drink, and nothing more than that.  I would never have guessed that not drinking would have so many more implications about a person, or would push them into a culture that is completely different from the world of those who do drink.

When I applied to college five years ago, I was looking for a really fun school - the kind of school where students value having fun, where they put as much effort into having fun as they did into their schoolwork.  This is commonly referred to as "playing hard."  Not being part of the drinking culture at my high school, I had no idea that alcohol was such an integral part of this lifestyle.  Call me crazy, but when you don't go to a small school and live on campus, you don't know what everyone else does on the weekends.  I knew there was drinking in college, but I also believed that college kids just had young, wild spirits when they did a lot of the crazy things I'd heard about.  I had every intention of living the college dream.

When I signed up to live in a chem-free dorm, I had no idea of the culture that I was walking into.  The summer before college, my friends and I had spent a lot of time at the beach and really wanted to go nightclubbing, but not all of our friends were 18 yet.  No worries, we all figured.  We'd be doing stuff like that every weekend in college.  But after a few weeks of the subculture that I had unknowingly signed up for, I realized that it wasn't going to happen. Because it was weird that I love dances and wanted to go nightclubbing as badly as I did.  It was weird that I love mainstream pop music, chick-flicks, and wearing hot pink.  It was weird that I'm not outdoorsy.  These qualities that I thought made me typical and mainstream were really out of place in the chem-free world.  Most chem-free students I know are very nice, but I still felt left out because I didn't belong in that culture.  I couldn't join the mainstream culture because it was so focused on drinking; I had to choose between two worlds that I equally didn't fit into.

Monopoly while studying: chem-free "fun"
But beyond interests are values, particularly the idea of playing hard.  Because to me, playing hard was more of a general statement, not based on any one activity.  I was never into the academic part of school - I loved high school because of the activities and social events. I had heard that in college, students enjoy academics and like to have intellectual conversations outside of class, which I had zero interest in doing.  When I looked at schools, I tried to find a place that wouldn't be like that, where school was just in the classroom and outside the classroom everyone just had fun.  But in the chem-free culture, no one wanted to live like that.  Being chem-free, I was expected to value weekends less and be more willing to give up that time.  In the chem-free world, I was supposed to think it was sad that we didn't have more intellectual conversations outside of class.  But what I think is sad is that I chose my college based on the first impression it gave me, but because I didn't like to drink, I was expected to reject what I thought my school valued, to rise up against something that I actually wanted to be a part of.

Even now that I have graduated, the concept of being chem-free still weighs on my mind.  I never meant to be so defined by one thing that I don't like to do.  Before my friends started drinking in college, we did the same kinds of activities that people who drink do; there was no cultural disconnect.  We had so much fun together, so many magical times that we'll never be able to have again unless we're drinking. Now that I've tried drinking, I should be more confident in saying that it's not my thing, but instead I have an aversion to telling anyone the truth because I don't want to be pushed into a culture that I'm not a part of.  I don't want all the assumptions that come with being chem-free.  If the cultures at my school were any reflection of the US drinking and non-drinking cultures, then it would be less of a lie to say that I get wasted every weekend, because whatever else that implies about me is probably true.


  1. Dude this is a pretty intellectual conversation to be having outside of varsity! Your uni must've been pretty hardcore like that - but you'll find, or I am anyway, that in the working world / grownup world it's less of a big deal.

    In fact I think moderation is the watch word. I'd prefer not to drink most of the time, but it makes doing business difficult and making friends hard work when you have to constantly explain yourself. On the other hand, if I do drink I'm a binge drinker (I had a religious upbringing and got more fanatical in college and then when I moved on from that something in my mind clicked and I can't seem to just drink a little without working really hard at it). If you can practice moderation, just relax into your place - I promise you (million bucks!) there are plenty others just like you out there who also want fun friends who don't get nutty drunk. Just like you, they're scared of the weirdos who define themselves by substances (positive or negative). Go team!

    1. Hi Chris, Thank you for responding, and thank you for letting me know that I'm not alone. I've been out of college for a few years now, and drinking is much less of a big deal - sometime after I wrote this post, I made friends(not from my college) who aren't into binge drinking but love to do lots of fun things.

      If you have trouble drinking socially without binge drinking, you can always use the excuse that you have to drive in the business situations. In terms of friends, good friends should respect your choice not to drink if you're not into it. I hope that you find the same type of friends who like to have fun with you

  2. I should add that I do have some very close (and fun) friends from college who don't fit into these categories. This post describes the general student population.