Two hands toasting with cups, the alcohol drinker holding a Solo cup and the sober drinker holding the blank outline of a Solo cup.
No one will ever know it's water and not vodka in that Solo cup. (Illustration by Shelly Freund, Elon University)

The Pros and Cons of Partying Sober

The COVID-19 pandemic has plenty of college kids asking — can you really have fun without alcohol?

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Two hands toasting with cups, the alcohol drinker holding a Solo cup and the sober drinker holding the blank outline of a Solo cup.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plenty of college kids asking — can you really have fun without alcohol?

It’s Friday night. You’re wearing high-waisted jeans, your favorite shirt, Converse shoes and maybe a little makeup. People are everywhere, there’s low lighting and you have to squeeze past people playing beer pong to finally reach the main event. Your friends head to the beer and the Solo cups, but you hug the corner. The music is pounding, and it takes you a second to get into it, to relish it all. Maybe it takes the return of your friends, maybe it takes an excited shout of your name from across the room, or maybe just a sip of water from the bottle you brought, because tonight, like most nights, you’re sober.

Whether you elect not to drink due to a family history of addiction, mental illness, medication, personal preference, the success of health-class scare tactics or one of a variety of other reasons, the college social scene is biased against you. Any TV show or movie set at college focuses on wild parties, especially those set at fraternities and sororities, and the games, hookups and blackouts they breed. If you’re on the fence about drinking and looking for a sign that it’s OK not to drink, here it is.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone studying on campus should follow their school’s rules for gatherings, so avoiding throwing or attending the big ragers is in your best interest, along with your community’s. However, I think this makes the sobriety discussion more pressing for two reasons.

First, questions about why you don’t drink are more likely to be asked in smaller situations, especially when people know you or want to get to know you better. It’s easier to go unnoticed at bigger parties when everyone’s attention is directed elsewhere.

Second, some people’s social lives revolve around parties, going to bars and drinking. Many freshmen expect to become involved socially at college by doing the same. I’m sure you’ve heard you can have fun sober, but how many people actually buy it?

So far, I’ve spent my college experience sober, and while it can feel awkward and off-putting at times, no one has ever judged me for my decision or pressured me to drink. I attend a smaller school with no Greek life, so I can’t speak to every environment, but if you’re in an environment where your choices aren’t respected, then you shouldn’t be there.

Despite the caveats to my alcohol-free experience, sometimes I’m totally content with my decision, and other times I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. Here are some of the conclusions I’ve made to help you make your own decision.

Pro

I still have fun when I go out. I love getting to sit and chat with people I don’t see often, dance with friends and take silly photos. People will even drink for me in games like beer pong so I can still participate; I’m not left out of anything.

Sure, I’m probably not quite as loose as everyone else around me, but I don’t feel like they’re speaking an alien language when I interact with them.

Con

It’s rather easy to feel self-conscious, which can ruin the fun. Also, if you’re the only sober person, you may feel you become responsible if anything happens, which can turn the night into a chore instead of the fun you were looking for.

You can totally have fun without alcohol, but it’s much easier when everyone else is also without alcohol.

Pro

Going sober is all-around safer for me than drinking is. My family has a history of addiction. On top of that, I also have mental illnesses that raise my likelihood of addiction even more. It definitely influenced my decision to go sober, since I knew that frequently getting drunk would not be in my best interest.

Plus, I don’t have to worry about vomiting, blacking out or being hungover, so I can do things like wake up early for work without it being any more of a chore than it is any other day of the week.

Con

I have no idea how to interact with drunk people. They’re fun to watch, especially when they do stupid things, but I don’t know how to talk to them, keep them from hurting themselves or know how to take care of them.

Pro

Going sober opens your social circle in a different way. People at parties, if you’re comfortable attending them, behave differently around you when you’re sober.

Some people won’t know what to do with you, or they’ll needle you relentlessly about going sober, even if it’s just for the night. Without alcohol to make you looser or more adventurous, you might find yourself in a corner getting to reconnect with a friend over good conversation.

On the other hand, if you don’t attend parties, you’ll seek out your social life elsewhere on campus or in your wider community. Connecting with people when you’re all on the same playing field is a lot easier, after all.

Con

Because people often struggle with how to cater to someone not drinking, it can be really hard to find alternative beverages at parties. I normally have to weave around people to find a water fountain or sink, so if you get thirsty easily or plan on doing a lot of dancing, BYOB applies to you, too — just turn the beer into the nonalcoholic beverage of your choosing. If you’re self-conscious about it, you can even put it in a Solo cup.

It’s Your Decision

Remember, any decision you make about sobriety is not binding. You can change it from year to year or even night to night. It can even be conditional, like maybe you’ll drink in more intimate settings but play designated driver when you go out to the bar, and that’s all okay.

And sure, being sober, I don’t have to be tucked into bed after vomiting everywhere, but I’ve left plenty of parties early because I couldn’t quite get comfortable in the environment, which overshadows a night in much the same way. At the end of the day, it’s important to think about what you want your college experience to look like, and to make the right decision for yourself.

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