How Excessive Drinking Can Hurt You
How Excessive Drinking Can Hurt You

When Does Casual Drinking Become an Alcohol Problem?

Turning 21-years-old is exciting, but don’t let too many beers ruin your year.

21 Is (Too Much) Fun

Turning 21-years-old is exciting, but don’t let too many beers ruin your year.

By Maria Alvarado, Savannah College of Arts and Design

Everyone can understand why it’s exciting to turn 21.

After you turn 21, fake IDs or bribing your friends to buy alcohol for you are no longer needed. In fact, becoming legal is such an important moment in the life of a young adult that it isn’t surprising how much time people spend planning how they are going to celebrate it. Going out with friends, having your first couple of drinks, clubbing and barhopping are usually among the most popular plans for a 21st birthday. It feels like there is a whole world to discover, but the spotlight is undoubtedly placed over your first legal alcoholic drink.

My roommate planned her 21st birthday for months. She turned 21 on a Saturday, specifically on Halloween, which means that there was plenty to do. She had dinner at her favorite Mexican restaurant, received nice gifts and even got to see friends that are usually too busy to ever hang out.

However, the highlight of her night was hitting the bars for the first time. With a huge smile in her face, she confessed, “I want to get really drunk. Really, really drunk.” Coming from a traditional family, it didn’t surprise me that she was tempted to break the rules and enjoy the night in her own way. All she wanted to do was have a good time, and I am not going to judge her for that.

How Excessive Drinking Can Hurt You
Image via Huffington Post

To be honest, the first time I drank, I had a blast. After years of having my parents keep an eye on me, always making sure that I couldn’t get my hands on any alcohol, of course I thought that drinking was fun. Every weekend was a new chance to try something new, have a new type of drink or just play Drunk Tower with my friends.

After a while, however, I would start to feel drowsy. Further on in the night, I would have issues forming proper sentences in English and get an acute headache that would force me to crawl into bed. In comparison to what other people endure after a night of heavy drinking, I guess my case wasn’t that bad, right?

At the moment, it didn’t seem like a huge deal. When I turned 21, most of my friends were still underage. Sadly, this meant that I had to do all the exploring by myself. I found out that I really liked Smirnoff Ice and Screwdriver, pink moscato, and strawberry daiquiris in between others. I tried not to drink every night, constantly telling myself that I had to be awake in order to do homework. In my mind, I knew that drinking wasn’t worth failing my expensive college classes.

But not everyone thinks the way I did when I turned 21. Some people struggle more to keep drinking at bay. I know this because many of my close friends found themselves deeply entranced by drinking as soon as they were 21. Since turning 21-years old is seen as a big passage of age, it isn’t surprising for people to feel they have achieved a new level of freedom. It feels like you have received a free pass to do all the excessive drinking you ever wanted to.

I’m not going to be a liar and say that drinking isn’t fun. The truth is that drinking can be pretty relaxing on a Saturday evening when all you want to do is chill out with a couple of friends, watch a movie and sit on the couch. Drinking with friends can be a fun way to start a night of partying or finish a week of hard work. But there is a problem when we find one, two or three beer bottles empty in the trashcan every day or so. Drinking alone, pushing chores aside, neglecting friends and family and even losing consciousness because of excessive drinking are big red flags.

How Excessive Drinking Can Hurt You
Image via US News

The scary truth is that it can happen to anyone. When one of my closest friends told me that she had been so drunk that she couldn’t remember anything that had happened the night before, I was scared. She told me, with a tone of honest amusement in her voice, that she had crawled in some guy’s van, slept in an old mattress that was lying in the back and had somehow made it home in one piece, safe and sound. To this day, I still wonder why she thought that I would find her story funny. Not only had she risked her safety by going to another city to party alone and drank until she lost consciousness, but she dared to find it funny.

Of course, I gave my friend a display of how worrying it was that she was abusing alcohol that much. Trust me, there is no “You shouldn’t even be drinking that much,” “It’s not good for your health,” or “You can just drink every single day” that will not make you sound like a parent lecturing his child.

Yet, despite how uncool it could make you sound or look, giving a little advice to a friend in need and applying it ourselves is never out of place. No one wants to see a loved one in a difficult situation or hurt. At the same time, I believe that no one ever wants to be in that place either.

But why is so hard to remember that, once you turn 21, you have your whole life from then on to drink and not just that one year? Why is it so easy to forget that as fun and appealing as drinking can be, it can also be dangerous and unhealthy when one loses control over it?

It might be because people think that drinking and having fun are tied together, have too much free time or too little, seek an escape or have been misled to think that drinking is the only way they can express themselves. Drinking isn’t about expression. There is no expression in not being able to articulate yourself or saying and doing things that you normally wouldn’t.

But what if we are already trapped in the circle of vicious drinking? How do we stop?

Like with any other addiction, the key to fighting alcoholism lies in finding something else to do.

Harvard Health tells us that keeping busy, setting goals and limits and reaching out for help are good strategies to curb our bad drinking habits. Surely we had our ways of enjoying life before turning 21 which is why there’s no excuse to think that we won’t have any fun if we don’t drink often. Eventually, there will be something to remind us that there’s more to turning 21 than just drinking. Some people find that they really like yoga, driving through the countryside, hiking mountain trails, cooking, etc.

Although drinking may be your favorite way of spending an evening with your best mates, it is important to always remember that it can’t be the only focus in your life. There is so much to do without putting your safety and health on the line that it’s just plain silly to go for danger and trouble. Being responsible and taking care of yourself is a big part of becoming an adult, and drinking is just a small perk that comes with the package.

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