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A Substance Free Student’s Guide to College Drinking

College is commonly associated with three things: education, sleep deprivation and partying. The first two I am more than familiar with, but the third, well let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea.

Here at Syracuse University, Greek life (fraternities and sororities) has a big presence on campus and drinking has an even bigger presence. I don’t mean to say that these two things always go hand in hand; they don’t. On weekends it does seem, however, that all the SU students love to get their drink on at house parties, many of them Greek.

When I came to college I was ready to be the odd one out. I figured I would probably be one of the few students who chose not to drink, but I never realized how much that decision would affect my college life.

My freshman year I was placed in to a typical residence hall for underclass students. The rooms were nice enough and the people seemed friendly, but it didn’t take long for the dorm bathrooms to fill up with students hung over and sick from a night of drinking.

As a freshman, many of the friends you make are from your residence hall or people you meet while out at parties. This was problematic for me. The kids who lived in my hall spent most of their free time drinking, and well, what are college parties for if not to get wasted?

I suddenly realized that dealing with college drinking didn’t affect my studies, the way most parents worry about, but it actually had a huge negative impact on my social life. I didn’t want to drink, therefore there was no reason to go to parties, and therefore there were no real opportunities for me to make friends outside of class. I was miserable. I was lonely.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I discovered the L.I.F.E. community that I started to accept Syracuse as my new temporary home. LIFE, which stands for Living in a Free Environment, is a living community specifically designed for substance free students. Students just like me.

Editor's Note: More on social life on a U.S. campus and how international students fit in at our Question of the Week

I find it interesting that on a campus with more than 13,000 students, roughly 20 chose to live in substance free housing. Yes, 20. And even here, we have our fare share of wobbly college coeds who have had one too many beers.

This semester, however, has intimately introduced me to the severity of the college drinking problem. And yes, I do believe it is a problem. Sure, I have overheard many conversations about what makes the best fake ID and how to get an underage college student into a bar, but within the past month I have had to call Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety and Syracuse University Ambulance twice! Both for people who had drunk too much and both for people I did not know!

While on my way home from work one night, I found an underage student who had collapsed and passed out in the middle of a parking lot. It was clear to me that he had too much to drink and as he lay there on the pavement between two parked cars, slowly regaining consciousness, I held up his body as he became sick. When the severity of the situation was clear to me, I called for SU Ambulance.

Is he breathing? Does his breath sound even? Is he changing colors?

I tried to make sense of these questions as I crouched over this boy I did not know. Unfortunately, I hear of scenarios like this far too often and I find it frightening that college campuses do not do more to prevent such occurrences.

My reasons for remaining substance free are deeply connected to my life experiences. I do not wish to regulate the drinking habits of my peers, but I question if they have the proper resources to do so for themselves. Maybe a drink or two can help lift the stresses that come along with college life, but where is the line between eliminating stress and waking up to a face full of pavement?