Drunk Thoughts, Sober Words?
Reflections on Dartmouth’s drinking culture
I was in that fuzzy space between sleeping and waking when I remembered that I couldn’t remember. The trash can beside the bed, the backwards t-shirt, the taste of frat in my mouth. Nice. Within minutes I was out the door, sneakers slamming hard against the cracked sidewalks. There was a part of me that desired some sort of physical undoing, like the act of sweating would somehow rid me of my poor decisions from the night before. I ran four miles that morning and jumped into the Connecticut with all my clothes on, probably still half-drunk. Soggy and confused, I returned to my room with the lyric line of “Why the fuck did I just do that?” reverberating around the inside of my skull. I didn’t know the answer to my own question, but I suspected that it had something to do with what I couldn’t process, what I didn’t want to sit in. Waking up to the taste of stale tequila on your tongue and foreign bruises all down your body from drunken falls makes for a depressing morning.
I’ve blacked out twice in my life. The first time was when I was 15 and tried hard alcohol for the first time, completely unaware of my limits or how the sharp, clear liquid in a pretty bottle could magically erase an entire night’s memory. The second time was on a random night during fall 2021, and there was literally no rhyme or reason to why it happened. I had gone way too hard for no good reason, but I soon became aware of the universality of this experience for college students, however perplexing and unappealing it seems to the non-drinker and drinker alike.
I think about alcohol a lot, perhaps because I have some personal stake in the matter. My family has a history of alcoholism, and just this past summer, someone within my immediate family ended up in the ICU because of it. I wonder why we’re so much worse than our parents were, why beer isn’t enough, why we don’t stop after one, two, even three blackouts, why it’s become so commonplace to drink yourself to regurgitation or unconsciousness. The fact that men’s rush culture encourages knocking back as much alcohol as you can without puking, the fact that I know only the intoxicated versions of too many people here, the fact that going out isn’t fun unless you’re drunk doesn’t sit well with me — like too many Keystones on an empty stomach. And there’s hardly ever a compelling justification for any of it. We get smashed just to say we got smashed, then limp back to our flimsy college-grade mattresses to sleep off the poison in our bodies before we rise for another round of overachieving.
I’ve run through the possible reasons for our generation’s appalling relationship with alcohol. Do we drink to forget or remember? To feel something or nothing at all? Is it panic? Are we afraid that we’ve lost too much time to the pandemic to not squeeze all the wild nights of our youth into four years of binge drinking? Is what we really crave when we drink the brave, bold versions of ourselves that exist only in the context of intoxication? I mean, what else is there to do in the middle of nowhere?
I’d love to believe in our parents’ romantic notion that we do it because it makes us look cool. It certainly makes for a nice image: The attractive Dartmouth partiers, clad in seersucker and silk, lapping magic liquid from crystal glasses and getting buzzed enough to actually understand Kant. But this absurd romanticisation doesn’t usually withstand the reality of Dartmouth pregames, with their vodka-crans in Nalgenes, sneakers coated in the elusive film of frat basement and the ever-present conviction that the night will end in either boredom or vomit.
There is some truth to all of these possibilities, I suppose. For me, drinking masks the disappointment of Dartmouth’s social scene, makes me far more ballsy with my frat-boy banter (and I’ll admit that all the boys I’ve met here seem far more interesting when I’m under the influence) and suspends me in a world that doesn’t seem to require anything of me. The lack of responsibility, is that it? Perhaps we’re so anxious about entering the real world that we’ve resorted to pumping ourselves full of toxins to temporarily alleviate the pressure of what’s to come.
Whatever the reason — and we all have our reasons — it’s certainly worth thinking about, lest we forget the real-life dangers that accompany the throat burn of a shot or the intolerable, fruity carbonation of a White Claw Surge. Though my past behavior bars me from taking any moral high ground, I believe it’s worth giving more critical attention to why we drink and the implications of having a college culture obsessed with the altered state of intoxication.