Further Reading

I turned 21; should I drink?

Hi Stanton,

I have a question regarding my feelings toward drinking. I am a 21 year old college student who isn't very fond of drinking. However, this girl I am dating has started drinking now that she just had her birthday. Since I am not an advocate of drinking, and she is now drinking, I tell her how I feel about it. However, sometimes I feel like I should accept the fact that people drink. Do you think that is something that is expected of people?


Dear John:

It is legal for her to drink, and most college students drink. But the important issue is how people drink. College students often drink in rapid bursts of consumption. This is not healthy and increases the risk of accidents and reckless behavior. Does the girl you date drink in a responsible and attractive fashion? That is, does she avoid being drunk or sloppy when she drinks, and does she drink only to enhance the feelings of the social occasion?

If your friend's drinking is not abusive and unattractive, then you probably shouldn't disapprove of drinking on her part. On the other hand, if she acts and feels differently than you do around drinking and social occasions, perhaps this is a sign that you and she do not share basic interests and values, and you should look for someone whose values are more like your own.

Your own decision to drink, however, may be based on other considerations. It is true that mild drinking can be healthy. That is, a lifelong habit (for men particularly) of at most a couple of drinks a day reduces the risk of heart disease. Can you limit your intake in this way? You will be helped in doing so if you have models of moderate drinking — either in your family or among your friends (like your girlfriend).

If you have had little or no exposure to alcohol in your life, on the other hand, then you need to be clear about what sensible drinking is, and whether you are able to drink in this fashion. You are cautious about drinking (not to say disapproving). This can work for you or against you. If it allows you to begin drinking with your eyes open, aware of the pitfalls and concerned to drink moderately, it can help you. But if you decide that, in drinking, you are abandoning your good sense and giving in to the inevitable, you might be encouraged to act in a reckless way.

And, finally, this brings up the crucial point — don't do anything you don't enjoy just to be a part of the group. Consuming alcohol can be a pleasant experience. But if your experiences with and observations of drinking make alcohol unappealing to you, follow your own instincts. Whether to drink, like the manner in which you drink, is your choice to make. Ignoring, even defying, your own values, is a bad way to enter into any activity.