Walk around the University of Georgia campus today and you’ll find plenty of students who don’t drink or do drugs.
As of two years ago, UGA is no longer among the top 20 “Best Party Schools” ranked by the Princeton Review.
I sat down with UGA students Chelsea, Miranda, Jake, Tyler and Mikala.
We are not revealing their last names because several asked to use first names only, so we made the choice to do that for all of the students we interviewed.
They asked each other questions about what college is like when you don’t drink.
What are the benefits of being a college student who doesn't drink or do drugs?
Mikala: A lot of people that do drink or do drugs, they tend to not be able to remember those experiences that they've had. As someone that doesn't drink, it's very nice when I'm hanging out with my friends to know that I'll be able to remember everything that's happening, tomorrow. It's nice because that's how you're building your relationships with people—that you have shared memories. And so in order to have those shared memory, you have to remember exactly the nuances of the different conversations that you have with people.
Jake: I have some friends that will partake and they'll go out and then the next day they'll wake up and they'll be super hung over and maybe try to study or go to the library or get work done. And it's just impossible, but for me, I'll go out, have fun, and then wake up the next morning feeling great and able to be very productive.
What are the challenges to being a college student who doesn't drink or do drugs?
Miranda: There's kind of a stigma around people who don't drink or do drugs, saying that we don't like to have fun at all. They think that we're in our dorms all the time, we don't go out. Personally, I don't drink or do drugs, but I still like to go out and have fun. I've walked downtown before. I've gone to parties. I just don't choose to partake in that stuff. People think that we're boring and it’s quite the opposite.
Mikala: I wanted to play off what Miranda was saying too, that, especially through the University of Georgia, they have so many different activities that you can do that don't involve drinking. They have got so many different intramural sports.
Sometimes I'll just go look on the master calendar and they've got all these different events you can go to. University Union puts on a lot of stuff, so it's not even that hard to find a place where there's not drinking because there's so many different activities we can do that don't involve drinking. You're not really boring because there's lots of things to do.
Chelsea: I can totally agree with that because I think it's all about what you make it. Since I've stopped drinking and doing drugs, I've actually been able to enjoy life and college for the first time. If I want to keep the perspective of, ‘Oh I'm boring,’ or ‘Oh, I can't do this or that,’ that's kind of ridiculous because it is all about what you make it and who you surround yourself with.
Tyler: I'm definitely guilty of having that mindset that Miranda was talking about. I thought if I were to stop drinking and doing drugs, the fun would be over. The truth was I wasn't having much fun for the past couple of years doing what I was doing.
Can you describe a situation in which sobriety became an obstacle or you became uncomfortable?
Chelsea: There was this one party I went to with my friends where people were so drunk that they were tripping over each other. There was this one girl going around trying to touch every single guy that was there. It was really awkward. She came up to one of my friends and he was like, ‘No thank you.’ And then she just started crying because she felt like she just got rejected from the Queen of Sheba or something. And I just think that was so funny.
But there were people tripping down the stairs. There was this one guy who was spilling his beer everywhere and spilling it all over everybody. I became very uncomfortable because it was not a controlled situation at all. It was kind of a free for all. And people were drinking, drinking. There were some people doing drugs out back, smoking weed and all that stuff. I was like, ‘Guys we’ve got to get out of here because something bad is really about to happen.’
Jake: Last year I had a friend...it was Saturday night. I had hung out with people or whatever up until maybe one or two and then I'd gone to bed, but a lot of people were still out drinking and doing whatever. I get this super loud knock, bang, on my door. My friend is screaming in the door: One of my friends is pretty drunk and almost passed out at Pita Pit. And the manager of Pita Pit had actually taken my friend's phone and, because [my friend] had been texting someone or whatever, [the manager] texted that person, ‘I just called the police you should pick up your friend before the police come.’
My friends had knocked on my door because they knew that I was the only one who had not drank. And I quickly got in my car and we went to go help him. But that's a situation where it could have been avoided and, thankfully, I was one person who really hadn't drank. And so it was nice to help.
Tyler: After being sober for a couple of months, I went with my best friend to a football game. This guy has been my best friend since since middle school. And I realize then that, as we're going to the game, this is the first time we've hung out without getting high or drunk. And it was a little different at first. There was a learning curve of how to be friends again while sober. I never really experienced too much overt peer pressure, but there was definitely an internal pressure that, sometimes, being uncomfortable would create for me. Luckily, he's a very supportive friend and I wasn't tempted at all at the game to drink. Pot was more of our thing anyways. And it was cool, I mean, we're good friends again, or, we never stopped being good friends, but we were able to have a more similar relationship to how it was before we ever started using.
Chelsea: I was getting angsty when this was coming up, but Christmas parties, especially work Christmas parties, have been an adventure. Luckily, at my most recent one, there was a girl who doesn't drink, but it was funny because the waitress started off with champagne. My glass stayed full. Next glass was wine, my glass stayed full. She came and poured wine again to everybody around around me and topped me off, not that there was anything to top off, but she just poured a couple of drops. Towards the end of the meal she was like, ‘Should I just stop?’ And I was like, ‘I just don't drink.’ She's like ‘OK. I just, there wasn't any gone,’ so she just didn't want to keep wasting the wine on me. I obviously just gave it to the people that were around me that finally got the hint as well. So Christmas parties have been an adventure.
Enjoying the dinner aspect and not necessarily having to go to ‘Oh, let's go to this bar afterwards until 2:00 a.m,’ is good, because the people that I had to work with the next day who did go out were exhausted and I was actually able to function.
What advice would you give a young person who feels peer pressured to drink or use drugs in school?
Mikala: A lot of people think, ‘OK, well, I just have to remove the bad things out of my life.’ But I feel like adding in good things in your life, adding in good activities, good people … that does a lot more than just saying OK I have to avoid all bad things.
Miranda: I would tell them to just follow whatever they want to do. Everybody thinks that UGA is this big melting pot of partiers who influence one another. But if you go to a party and somebody is trying to give you a drink and you say you don't drink, it's not like they're going to keep pushing you and pushing you. At least I haven't had that experience. They'll respect your decision. Or they may ask you again and you kind of have to stand up for yourself a little bit, but they're not going to pour it down your throat.
Jake: I have to agree with a lot of that. Something that I've noticed is, if a friend is trying to peer pressure you and actually gets mad at you for not drinking or doing drugs, that's not really the kind of friend that you want to be around. You're friends with people because it's fun to hang out with them and talk and joke around, but the alcohol or the weed - that doesn't have anything to do with that. If you have a friend that's trying to make you do something like that, it's not really much quality of a friend.
In your life you're going to be pressured to do a lot of things, not even just drinking and drugs—it could be hanging out when you have homework to do or just a whole variety of different things that you can be pressured but you know is not the right thing to do—and it's a good practice to be able to stand up for yourself and understand that you need to be out to make your own decisions and not worry too much about what other people think.
Chelsea: If it's definitely not something that you want to do or it's not something that you're into, it's easy to say, ‘Oh, just don't do it.’ But … don't. Just hold your own as a person. You won't regret that later.
Tyler: No one's ever told me, ‘Take a drink and you’ll be cool’ or ‘Come get high and we will like you.’ If I had any advice, I’d say just know that there are other options available. If you do want to drink, go for it. Hope it works out better than it did for me. Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons, not to get some girl to like you or something like that.
What misperceptions do people have about partying at the University of Georgia?
Tyler: I probably have some of the misperceptions of it. The other week, I saw a study that showed that less than 30 percent of students had binge drinked in the past month. So either I have a misperception or the study people have a misperception. I'm not sure. My perception is that it's very common. At least some drinking once a week.
Chelsea: I was partying at UGA before I was even a student at UGA. So, that's just automatically what I thought when I thought of Georgia. It's a big party school, fraternities, sororities, everybody goes out downtown, you know, all that stuff. What I've come to realize since being sober and not doing drugs or alcohol, or drinking or anything like that: There's a lot more to UGA than just that.
Mikayla: I think that UGA is definitely growing out of its party school reputation. One thing that surprised me is, when I meet new people, and they might be from out of state or from different countries, I always ask, ‘Well why did you choose Georgia?’ And they'll tell me about like, ‘Oh, the accounting program is great. This program is great. This program…’ No one's ever told me, ‘Oh, because it's a great party school.’ So I think we're slowly getting out of the party school reputation because people are coming here for academics or sports or things like that.
If you want to look for the party scene, you're going to find it. There is a party scene. I think it would be dumb for us to say, ‘There's not a party scene at UGA.’ There is. But if you don't go looking for it, you don't have to be involved with it. We have 700 organizations on campus and, I mean, if you can't find one of 700 … there's just so many different opportunities.
Jake: Something that I think is important to add to that is, even though [UGA] has this reputation of being a party school and sometimes there's a good bit of partying, it kinda seems like, even the kids that do seem to party also care a lot about their academics, which I think is evident by just how hard UGA has been to get into. As you start to see more people care more and more about academics, the school will eventually become harder and harder to get into and becomes an even better school and it'll just naturally become harder to go out and drink as much and do as many drugs when the school is on this path to being an even better school.
I feel that the culture could be a lot better if people preached moderation. There's this stigma that once you partake you got to go as hard as you can and you have to just drink until you can't remember or smoke weed until you pass out or whatever.
If people are able to learn that it's okay to go out and just have one drink or two drinks and not worry about drinking just to get drunk, I feel like that could improve the culture a lot and make people not feel like they either have to abstain or just drink till they throw up.
Miranda: I'm actually part of a group on campus that does do that. Education is just really, really important to let people know, maybe, what they are, or are not consuming, or what they should be consuming healthfully.
Tyler: I'm able to be here today because of the collegiate recovery community. The director that told me about this event, he has been immensely supportive of me and my path. I tried moderating for years and that just wasn't in my wheelhouse. Iit was either abstinence or severe alcoholism. Stopping wasn't something that I was able to do by myself, or if I was able to do by myself, I certainly wasn't happy with it. And in my two years in the CRC [Campus Recovery Center], my life's been getting better immensely. It's a direct result from the fellowship in that community and the influence that they have had in my life.