College Drinking Culture: How to Navigate College Parties, Tailgating & More


College is a crucial chapter in many young people’s lives. For teens, this time represents as much an opportunity to find themselves as it is to socialize and meet new people.

If your only experience with college comes from social media and movies, you may mistakenly believe that drunken parties and rowdy tailgates are inescapable parts of the college experience. But that’s not the reality; in fact, the whole image of the college drinking culture is changing. Rest assured, as you enter college, you can still have all the same fun without alcohol.


What is the College Drinking Culture?

When thinking about college drinking culture, it’s important to challenge the myth that all college students drink. In fact, data shows that over the past several decades there has been a shift towards more sober lifestyles among college students.

According to a national survey, 49% of college students reported drinking alcohol in the last month. That may seem like a lot of people, but it also means that more than half of college students aren’t drinking alcohol, which means there are a lot of like-minded sober people out there.

Social media is filled with people talking about trends that involve abstaining from underage drinking, sharing the hashtag #SoberCurious millions of times. Meanwhile, “mocktail” recipe videos featuring young people making delicious drinks without alcohol have become extremely popular content on platforms like Instagram. You may think “everyone’s doing it” when it comes to drinking alcohol, but they’re not, and you don’t have to either.


What Happens at College Parties

We’ll give it to you straight — some people do drink alcohol at college parties. Some people even participate in binge drinking and underage drinking at parties. You may see people take shots or play drinking games, but these aren’t the only things happening at parties.

People also dance, make new friends, enjoy a popular DJ, dress up in fun costumes, and cheer on the home team. If a party featured alcohol as the only source of entertainment, it wouldn’t be that fun of a party. This means you can still go and enjoy the other aspects of what happens at college parties without feeling pressured to partake in drinking alcohol.


Benefits of Avoiding Alcohol

As a young college student, you have your whole life ahead of you. In fact, your brain is still developing until about age 25. Alcohol can negatively impact that development, causing:

  • Problems with memory and learning
  • Poor judgement
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Higher likelihood of developing substance and alcohol use disorders
  • Increase in risky decision-making

Avoiding underage drinking can help you enjoy:

  • Better sleep
  • Greater ability to focus on your college classes
  • Better workouts and exercise
  • Increased energy


Navigating College Drinking

You can easily navigate the pressures of college and the temptation to drink alcohol while still enjoying the same activities and making friends. Remember, people don’t like someone because they drink; they like them because they’re funny, kind, compassionate, or easy to get along with.

Drinking underage at parties won’t get you any more friends than going to the same parties and not drinking. Try these strategies to navigate parties, tailgates, and more:

  • Bring a Mocktail: Knock everyone’s socks off by bringing a tasty mocktail to the party. This way, you contribute to the drinks available, have a conversation starter, and can stick to your own non-alcoholic beverage. There is even a variety of non-alcoholic beers, wine, and mocktails on store shelves, with new products often being added. You can snag one of these or create your own concoction.
  • Take a Sober Friend: Life is better with friends, and so is college! Find some friends who also want to wait until 21 to drink alcohol. Your sober group can hit up all the parties, tailgates, and social gatherings without the need to consume alcohol underage.
  • Be The DD: Being the designated driver not only means you and your friends can get home safely, it also sets a positive example to never drink and drive.
  • Get in the Groove: You don’t need alcohol to have fun. You can still hit the dance floor and bust out your best moves!


Take the Pledge

We’re seeing a shift where the social experience in college is becoming less alcohol-centered. It’s a great time to enjoy all the same fun of college without the booze. With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why college students are moving away from drinking underage. If you’re ready to have fun in college without a hangover, Take the Pledge to wait to drink until you’re 21.