How to Avoid Binge Drinking this St. Patrick's Day

The unfortunate tradition of binge drinking on Saint Paddy's day has become ubiquitous on college campuses, especially in the past few years.

Binge drinking -- drinking four or more drinks in a sitting for women and five or more for men -- is probably the most immediate health concern on most college campuses. Don't take my word for it: check your school's history. Chances are most of your school's hospital visits and, unfortunately, some of your school's student deaths are binge drinking-related incidents.

I'm writing this article because I think colleges lack a support system for students who don't want to drink -- or just don't want to drink too much. In high school, there are millions of ways to excuse yourself from drinking (my two favorites were: 1. I need to drive after this and 2. My mom would kill me). In college, however, there are fewer excuses you can give, and many students feel compelled to drink.

Are you worrying about the pressure to drink this Monday? Don't worry - here are a few tips on how to avoid binge drinking:

1. Use the ultimate excuse: studying.

You're in luck -- St. Patrick's Day is on a Monday! It will be easy to claim you need to stay in and study. Further, college kids are surprisingly supportive of kids who need to get their work done. In my experience, I've found there is a major difference in how peers view studying in high school and in college. In high school, kids who wanted to study as opposed to going out were "unpopular dweebs with no social life." In college, those same kids are "intellectuals and geniuses who have their lives together." If you'd rather study than spend the night watching over your drunk friends, college is your prime time.

2. Find some friends who don't drink and hang out with them.

I wish I could say that the majority of college kids don't drink, but that's just simply not true. Researchers estimate that 4 out of 5 college kids drink. But consider this: that means than one in every five college students is a non-drinker, and twenty percent is a pretty high proportion.

3. Go to a club or college-sponsored activity.

I have to preface this tip with a caveat -- many clubs at college have social drinking events. Unlike high school clubs, college clubs often host parties or get-togethers that involve drinking.

However, I've found that college clubs that are serious about their work rarely have parties with alcohol. Pre-professional groups, religious clubs, and service organizations are the least likely to engage in drinking. You may have to do some searching to find a club that A) matches your interests and B) doesn't drink, but it will be worth it to feel comfortable and respected at club functions. Once you've found a few non-drinking clubs, you'll have an excellent support system that you can turn to if you ever feel pressured to drink.

4. Go out and have a good time, but skip the drinks.

I think a lot of college students miss this option. If you like to party but you don't like to drink, the two are not a package deal. Some students complain that they don't want to look prudish in front of their friends. Pick up a ginger ale, and nobody will know -- trust me, I've done it plenty of times before.

For the bravest of my readers, there is another option: proudly tell people you don't drink. High schoolers are obsessed with pressuring their friends into uncomfortable situations, which is why drinking in high school is so prevalent. Once kids go to college, many assume that their college-aged peers will be equally as pressuring. From my experience, that's not the case. College kids respect independence above all else, and if you don't want to drink, they're not going to ask more than once.

5. Make your decision NOW, not "in-the-moment."

I recently read an interesting chapter about decision-making in the book Nudge by economists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. The authors describe how people have two different states: a cold state and a hot state. In your cold state, you are able to logically think through your decisions. A hot state is "in-the-moment," and you often choose the option that tempts you rather than the option that makes the most sense.

We can apply this thinking to drinking. Right now, as you're reading this article, you can sit back and think about your long-term goals. You can think about what would make for a fun and productive weekend, and for most kids, that doesn't include alcohol. If you make the decision now, in your "cold state" not to drink this weekend, then you'll be less likely to feel pressured in your "hot state" on Friday or Saturday night.

6. Do your homework on binge drinking.

This may not get you out of a high-pressure situation, but I'm afraid most college students don't understand the gravity of binge drinking. Forget throwing up and having a tough hangover; binge drinking has more serious consequences. Here are a few stats from the National Institute of Health:

  • Over 1,800 college students are predicted to die from alcohol-related incidents this year alone.
  • More than 700,000 college students report either physical or sexual assault due to alcohol.
  • About 25 percent of college students report that alcohol has had a negative consequence on their schoolwork.
  • Overdose isn't the only concern: over 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problem like addiction each year.

7. If you must drink, and you are of legal age, drink in moderation.

I'm not a fan of telling kids under 21 to drink responsibly because I think "responsible underage drinking" is an oxymoron. However, I realize that there will be people who read this post and still go out and drink on St. Patrick's Day. Please drink responsibly: Count your drinks, and remember that a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, and a 1.5 oz. shot have equivalent amounts of alcohol. Skip the "jungle juice" or punch, which can have a dangerously high alcoholic content. Take a taxi home or assign a (responsible) designated driver. Further, drinking doesn't mean binge drinking - if you limit your number of drinks, you will at least avoid many of the most severe consequences of binge drinking.