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6 Lessons I Learned From Alcohol In College

College prepared me for more than just my career.

Drinking in college is often seen as a rite of passage. Most students choose not to pass it up. A national survey showed that nearly 60 percent of college students from ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the last month. Forty percent of them even met the criteria for binge drinking, meaning four or more drinks for women and five or more for men in two hours. Let’s file that under “least surprising statistics we’ve seen all year.”

Binge drinking is something I’m quite familiar with. If you Google “top drinking schools,” my alma mater holds its spot at number one pretty consistently from year to year. I’m not exactly proud of that ranking, but I do come from and live in this culture where alcohol is always around. The last baby shower I attended had a keg and I’m sure the next one will, too. That’s just how it is here.

Living in Wisconsin, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a lot about alcohol over the years. There seems to be a shortage of academic research on the topics I cover here, so bear with me: this going to be almost entirely anecdotal. I’ll bring in actual stats when I can.

1. No one is fixating on that dumb thing you did when you were drunk…

When last night’s hazy moments suddenly come into focus (thanks, Snapchat), you might be headed into a spiral of thoughts like “I’m an idiot” or “everyone hates me.” I’m not referring to normal feelings of regret that you can brush off. I mean the end-of-the-world feeling, the crawl-under-a-rock feeling.

I didn’t find reputable sources that talk about this hangover depression/anxiety combo, but a quick Google search turns up a litany of results. Conclusion: lots of people deal with the same dark-cloud-over-their-head feelings. It has less to do with how dumb you acted (seriously, no one else cares) and more to do with symptoms of actual depression and anxiety. They’re there to make you feel hopeless and worried. It’s their job.

This tends to affect people who are already predisposed to anxiety and depression, so consider yourself a lucky duck if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

2. …unless you did a really dumb thing.

Some dumb things = crimes. Alcohol is linked with injury and assault, particularly on college campuses. Every year, an estimated 599,000 students from 18 to 24 are unintentionally injured after drinking. Balcony jumping isn’t worth it, my friends.

Also, each year about 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who is under the influence. About 97,000 students each year are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Alcohol is not the reason for rape and assault – the perpetrators are. However, alcohol can exacerbate this already serious issue.

I know people who have been assaulted or seriously injured, which makes those huge numbers somehow feel even more giant to me. Those numbers represent hundreds of thousands of real lives that will probably never be the same.

You will probably feel like injury or assault can’t happen to you, but I’m here to tell you that it can. Yep, you.

Speaking of dumb things…

3. Alcohol might make you feel like you can drink & drive. Don’t.

The more alcohol people consume, the more they genuinely believe they can do anything without consequences. At least, that’s how it seems.

Each year, about 4.8 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drive drunk. In 2014, nearly 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving-related crashes, which accounts for over 30 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

If you’re going to drink, it’s imperative that you plan ahead for what you’ll do at the end of the night. You absolutely cannot leave it up to your intoxicated self to decide how to get home. Drunk people are idiots, even if they’re you.

Again, I know people who have been pulled over (a DUI is expensive, embarrassing, and follows you around for a long time) and I have known people who died in drunk driving-related accidents. It really can happen to you. You don’t want to wait for something awful to happen before finally understanding that.

4. Alcoholism is not something to joke about.

Alcoholism is different from alcohol abuse, but they are related; abuse can lead to addiction. Alcoholism is a real disease that looks vastly different from regular alcohol use or even abuse. Alcoholism can make a person completely lose control of their life, their emotions, and their body.

Failing to take alcohol abuse seriously, like joking that so-and-so is an alcoholic, is a really terrible thing to do. It only shows that you don’t understand what alcoholism is.

5. Order the pizza. You’ll feel better.

Let’s lighten the mood a little.

There’s a myth that eating fatty foods will cure your hangover. Like a lot of health-related tips out there, there’s a tiny bit of truth to that but it’s way more complicated.

Alcohol increases our production of a neuropeptide called galanin, which makes us crave fatty foods. Ordering a pizza isn’t guaranteed to help you avoid a hangover, but there is a good reason why you’re craving a specific type of food. You’ll be happy you caved, but maybe follow it up with a wheatgrass shot? Just a suggestion. Moving on.

6. Drunk girls in the bathroom are the best people you will ever meet.

Let’s end on a high note. There’s a lot to dislike about binge drinking culture, but it’s not called “social lubricant” for nothing. The nicest people I have ever met are other drunk girls in the bar bathroom.

If you need a hair tie, a phone charger, a tampon, or all of the above, there is a girl in the bathroom who has them ready for you. If she doesn’t, she will make it her life’s mission to get them to you. I have yet to see an exception to this rule, and there’s plenty of evidence online to back me up on this.

There isn’t a way to tie up this article in a neat little bow because there is no real conclusion. I’ve included the good, the bad, and the ugly things I’ve learned while going to a school that tops the “top drinking schools” list in a state that celebrates all things alcohol.

As we like to say here in the dairy state, please “Drink Wisconsinbly.”

About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.