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Ask the Weekly with Colleen Loranger: Substance use and social life

I’ve been struggling with finding a balance between having a social life and partying less. For various reasons, I’ve been trying to curb my alcohol/drug use (preferably by being entirely sober), but the more I actively stay away from substances, the lonelier and more separated I feel from my friends and the social scene at college. How can I sustain a fulfilling social life at a school where many of the students (and most of my friends) seem to blow off steam and tension by getting plastered?

First, I want to commend you for having the bravery to make a healthy decision for yourself. It is not an easy thing to acknowledge when something in our lives is out of control. It takes a level of self-awareness many people don’t possess. The good news is sober living is not social death.

Socializing in college is often defined in narrow scope, categorized by parties and hazy nights. This is flawed. The narrative around drinking far surpasses the amount of drinking that actually takes place. Reflect on the best experiences you’ve had at Mac. Were they at parties? I suspect not. Here’s why: statistically, most of college life takes place outside of parties. It happens between classes, at dinner, in the library. It happens with new friends, with old friends. It happens when you least expect it.

In fact, drunk socializing is often an unsatisfying game, one we play to feel marginally better. It is a game with low stakes because of how easy it is to attribute our actions to substances. True strength comes from refusing to play the game where you “forgot” what you said last night. True strength comes from making a commitment to yourself, a commitment ultimately more fulfilling than any free beer will ever be.

All that said, you should absolutely continue to go to parties on weekends if you find it enjoyable. Sobriety is not an isolation sentence and going to parties sober is not uncommon. I am confident you will find other people who either don’t drink heavily or maintain sobriety. These people will support you.

If you frame party attendance as a chance to catch up with people you normally don’t see during the weekdays, rather than an opportunity to forget your troubles, it will be better. If you are worried about how people will react to your curbed substance usage, don’t be. One thing I’ve learned is (good) people respect self-respect. So don’t hesitate, decline with confidence. “No, I’m good,” is a perfectly acceptable response to any offer, and anyone who questions this is a fool.

Not drinking gives you space to do whatever you want: driving, for example, or waking up with the energy to accomplish any creative projects without the regret of what you did the night before. As far as blowing off steam goes, drinking and drug use have never been great ways of accomplishing the true weightlessness that comes from de-stressing in a productive way. For this, I think you need to find what’s best for you. Some ideas include drawing or writing, yoga, meditation, having a dinner party, planning a vacation you may not take, calling your grandma just to say hi; the list is endless, really. This time, formerly devoted to pregaming and alcohol runs, will now be freed up.

I assume you’ve realized alcohol and drugs don’t make you happy. Translating this personal acknowledgment to socializing will feel hard at times, but you have already proven your strength. You are up for the challenge.

December 5, 2014

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