How to Stay Sober in College: 6 Tips for Tricky Situations

Heading to college can feel like a breath of fresh air and freedom. It’s a new beginning with so much possibility. However, the enthusiasm of heading off to campus and living your best life can sometimes be dampened by concerns about how to stay sober when there are a lot of opportunities for underage drinking. How will you avoid sticky situations when you want to say “no” to alcohol?

We get it! Movies and social media often portray college as a giant drinking party where everyone is underage binge drinking all weekend long. But those of us who’ve already been through college can tell you that’s not the case. In fact, the number of college students who choose not to drink is on the rise, so you can go back to feeling excited about enjoying the college experience.

Now that you know drinking alcohol doesn’t have to be part of your college experience, let’s get to some tips about how to stay sober and avoid alcohol if a sticky situation does arise.


1. Join a Campus Organization

One of the best ways to start making friends when you get to college is to join a club or activity. You’ll find that your campus is full of organizations for you to join and participate in that don’t involve drinking alcohol:

  • Join an intramural or club sports team
  • Join a club to explore a new interest or develop a new skill
  • Join a study group
  • Attend on-campus movie nights or concerts

Be sure to stay connected with student life and stay up to date on campus events, so you don’t miss seasonal activities like a fall hayride or spring theater performance.


2. Hang Out with Sober Friends

Parties are part of college life, and if you want to attend one, the easiest way to avoid being tempted to drink alcohol is to bring a sober friend. You can help each other by casually changing the subject if someone tries to pressure you to have a beer. You can also stick together if someone who’s been overserved is bothering you.

No rule says you must drink alcohol to have fun. You can easily dance the night away when you invite a friend to the party who prefers dancing over getting drunk.  When you hang out with sober friends, it’s much easier to say “No” to alcohol.


3. Drink a Non-alcoholic Beverage

People may pressure you to drink alcohol, especially if you don’t have a drink in your hand. Grab a non-alcoholic beverage like a bottle of water or a soda, so others won’t offer you a drink you don’t want.

If everyone is drinking out of red plastic cups, even better! Pour your water into a cup and avoid awkward conversations about why you’re choosing not to drink alcohol. Once the focus is off alcohol you can turn your attention to meeting new people and having fun!


4. Be a Designated Driver

There should always be a designated driver who remains sober and makes sure everyone gets home safely. Unfortunately, people aren’t always willing to volunteer, and underage drinking and driving results in thousands of deaths every year.

At parties, everyone appreciates the designated drivers and will respect your decision not to drink. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to say “No” to alcohol, being a designated driver is a safe and legitimate excuse to decline drinks.


5. Practice Saying “No”

Learning how to turn down alcohol is a skill even older adults struggle with. It’s difficult when you feel pressured to underage drink, but if you say “No” once, your real friends should respect your decision.

Still, in college, people can be pushy. Have some excuses handy for those rare folks who just can’t seem to take a hint. Try telling a joke to change the subject or say you need to get up early in the morning to finish a project or study for a test. Before going to a party where you know alcohol will be served, try out some of the excuses you feel most comfortable with on a sober friend.


6. Make Your Own Social Plans

Sometimes the easiest way to turn down alcohol is to avoid certain situations altogether. Keeping your social activities free from booze is another option for how to stay sober while you’re in college. Organize your own fun and leave alcohol off the guest list!

Host a pizza and game night, plan a camping or hiking trip, or plan a movie night with a theme. Even studying can become a social event when you and your classmates gather at a favorite coffee shop. There are so many options! The more plans you make, the more people will turn to you for a fun time!

Staying sober in college, or even just turning down a drink, can feel difficult at times, but you’re not alone in your decision to avoid underage drinking. We’re confident you’ll have a great college social life that doesn’t involve alcohol. Ready to say “No” to alcohol? Take the Pledge today to stay sober.