So let's get straight to the point- I'm going to college next year and I'm feeling kind of weird about the party scene.
It's not that I'm particularly uncomfortable with underage drinking or anything, it's just that I've never done it. I don't know how I come to understand my alcoholic limits safely before I'm at some gross fraternity party with skeezy dudes around. How does everyone else already know how to drink? When do they have the time? How do I safely learn my limits?
Okay, you guys, first things first: here at SparkLife, we really, really, do not condone underage drinking. It's against the law (with a few rare exceptions), and you shouldn't break the law, and studies show that drinking too much too young can keep your brain from developing, and nobody wants a stunted brain.
That said, we don't condone sending naked pictures of yourself to strangers on the internet, either—but things being what they are, and knowing that some of you will do it anyway, we understand the wisdom of telling you that if you really, absolutely, positively cannot avoid taking and sending a digital picture of your bejeezus to whomever asks for it, you should at least take pains to crop out your face and any identifying marks.
So, with the understanding that you should really wait until you're of legal age to put this information into practice, here's how to know your limits when it comes to alcohol.
1. Start light, slow, and in a safe place.
Whether you take your first drink at 16, or 21, or 37, your inaugural experience with alcohol should be in a controlled environment—a family dinner or casual gathering of friends, for example, as opposed to a party where the drink of choice is a mystery concoction being served out of a garbage can. Different drinks have different alcohol contents, so make sure you know how potent your beverage is; your best bet, starting out, is to stick with less-alcoholic beers or simple drinks where you can control the proportion of booze to mixer. And the first time you drink, don't push it. It's an experiment: have one, go slowly, and see how you feel.
2. Know what affects your tolerance.
Weight, muscle mass, dehydration, sex (the one you're assigned at birth, not the kind you do with another person), how much you've had to eat that day, and how much you drink in general: all these things, plus your own personal metabolism, determine how much alcohol you can handle. (Ladies, beware: you don't metabolize alcohol as easily as men do, and if you drink like them, you'll end up way drunker.) Always eat before you drink, and always drink water throughout the night. And know in advance if you're working with a handicap: for instance, if you're a petite woman who's never imbibed before, you may well be done after one beer. Don't push it.
3. Stop when you start to feel good.
One of the reasons that people drink—apart from thirst, taste, and social convention—is for the buzz: a euphoric state in which you feel happy, social, confident, and uninhibited, without being sloppy or out of control. (You'll know it when you get there.) Unfortunately, in your euphoric state, you'll also feel like you want to continue drinking—and if you do, you'll plunge straight through your buzz and into the much less pleasant territory of stumbling, puking, crying, and sending seriously regrettable text messages to your ex-boyfriend at four o'clock in the morning. The key to imbibing safely and happily is to resist that urge. Drink slowly, recognize when you're feeling good, and then slow down—or, if you're a new drinker, stop and switch to water/juice/soda. People will often keep pounding away in an attempt to "keep the buzz going," but the truth is that once you're buzzed, it takes little to no alcohol to stay that way.
4. Avoid or beware of the following:
Sweet liqueurs (Bailey's, Kahlua, Midori, Amaretto, etc), which taste deceptively non-alcoholic and are easy to overindulge in.
Shots of any kind—at least not at first, and only very cautiously thereafter. If you take one, you should stop drinking for at least an hour afterward; otherwise you can end up suddenly, wildly hammered.
Grain alcohol like Everclear. Just don't drink this, ever. It's like paint thinner, and the only people who willingly drink it are either idiots or alcoholics.
Anything you hate the taste of. Again, people who choke down something repulsive just to get drunk? Alcoholics. Part of responsible drinking is appreciating alcoholic beverages for their flavor, not just their chemical effects.
5. Know that if you don't follow these guidelines, your body will make you wish you had.
A pounding headache, a stomach that feels like it's full of battery acid, a tongue that feels like it's grown hair, and the vague, cringing memory of having done something really stupid in front of that guy you like: overdo it on the booze, and all of this will be yours! And if you don't see the value of avoiding drunkenness now, trust me, one horrific hangover will be all the education you need.
If you follow these guidelines, Sparkler, you'll learn your limits and develop a mature, responsible relationship with alcohol—or, alternately, you'll learn that drinking just isn't for you. But either way, you'll be ahead of the curve: you ask how it is that everyone at college already knows how to drink, but the truth is... they don't. Which is an unfortunate fact that you'll no doubt witness in all its glorious ghastliness during your first weekend on campus. So be smart, be safe, and err on the side of caution when it comes to your own drinking... and when it comes to everyone else's, just try not to step in the vomit.
Got something to say? Leave your comments below! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.