By: Joseph Raspolich

When you are sitting in a college class on Monday morning, it’s not uncommon to hear the same conversations over and over. Conversations that usually start with something like, “Dude, I got so drunk this weekend.” People wear it like a badge of honor. The goal is to get as drunk as possible and party hard. Why? Because you only get to be in college once and you have to make the most of the experience. Right?

The problem with that is the fact that alcohol doesn’t necessarily enhance your experience at all. For every wild night of drinking, there is the following day that is marred by a hangover. In some cases, heavy drinking can result in a blackout, which means you won’t even remember the night when you wake up in the morning. How’s that for making lasting college memories?

On top of that, heavy drinking and bingeing can lead to serious problems. Studies show that people under 25 that drink heavily for a year or more can experience long-term or permanent brain damage and neurocognitive deficiencies.

In reality, drinking and substance abuse in college are more about a lack of direction and peer pressure than it’s about any authentic “college experience.” Here’s how to make the most out of your time in college while remaining sober.

The Truth About College Drinking Culture

Partying and alcohol are referred to as the real college experience, but it’s just as much a part of college life as all-nighters, football games, and expanding your scope of knowledge. The truth is, drinking is more a product of perceived social norms than it is any kind of authentic experience. Studies show that students usually drink as a way to mimic the behavior of other students, as a response to being offered a drink (sometimes with intense prodding), or because it’s seen as normal or expected.

However, there are students at every university that forge their own path and end up having a great college experience while sober. Here are some ways to have a great college experience without drinking or doing drugs.

Make Real Friends

Relationships you develop in college can be valuable in the future. If you decide to settle in the same area after college, you may still have friends around. If you make friends in your field of study, you may have people who can get you jobs or co-workers you already know. It’s never too early to begin networking, and college is a great place to start.

But is meeting someone at a party when you’re both drunk a foundation for a lasting relationship? Students often use alcohol as a social lubricant to meet new people. However, it turns out that alcohol isn’t really a mutual interest. In the sober light of day, you may find that you don’t have anything in common with the people you were partying with the night before.

Besides, there are better ways to meet people. Instead of joining the party fraternity, join a club based on your interests or do an intramural sport.

Get to know other students on a level deeper than their preferred type of liquor.

Develop Your Unique Personality

Not everyone likes going to big parties let alone ragers with alcohol and other substances. Why should your college experience be shaped by this idea of a good time? Why should binge drinking be so ubiquitous? There are many different personality types, and big, loud, parties are just one way to spend time.

If you find parties awkward, uncomfortable, or boring, you might think that a little alcohol is all you need. However, you might actually feel that way because you’re not into that kind of party. Explore other options and connect with other groups. Investigate your own ideas of fun and try new things. That’s what college is ultimately about anyway.

Party Sober

Despite the name, alcohol doesn’t add that much to “drinking games.” Games like Flip Cup or Beer Pong are about hand-eye coordination and focus under pressure; two things alcohol hinders. Alcohol essentially serves as a punishment for losing, with the losing team getting to take home a hangover. Plus, anyone who doesn’t want to get drunk is left out. Fun stuff.

To prove that party games don’t need alcohol to be fun, try the following alternative with your friends. There are a few jelly bean companies that sell novelty flavors that range from offbeat to genuinely gross. Buy a pack of them, and place each flavor into cups in a Beer Pong set up. The standard rules apply with the stakes raised to a level that will hype up your party in a positive way. Instead of playing Beer Pong and regretting it tomorrow, play Bean Pong and have a great time. Just be sure to provide a pack of gum to freshen breath afterward.

Avoid Addiction

One of the biggest threats to college drinkers is the threat of addiction. Addiction, once it takes hold, is a lifelong disease that will actually change your brain chemistry. Your brain’s reward center will crave drugs or alcohol in a way that can’t be controlled with willpower alone. Above all else, the best reason to avoid drinking in college is to avoid a lifetime of struggling with addiction.