Dear Lauren,

When I go to parties, my friends all pressure me to drink. “Hey, come on!” they’ll say, and “Loser!” if I don’t join them. I was wondering what you think I should do. Thank you.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

You sound like a polite and respectable young man. So I give you credit for being a thinking, respectful youngster. Kudos to you!

I suggest you use those strengths of yours to stand firm and do what you think is the right thing, even if it’s not the popular thing. My parenting motto for my own children has always been: “Do what’s right, no matter what anyone else says.”

Your first strength: “Thinking.” The fact that you emailed this question to me means that you are thinking about what you do in life. You’re not just blindly following any random path, or any random person. You’re thinking, debating, and deciding: “What should I do?” That thinking will take you far, my friend. That thinking will keep you searching for right and for higher moral ground instead of merely falling into a default mode, like animals do. Animals just follow the herd. Animals don’t think. They just act from their instinct. We are much more elevated than that, endowed with a mind so we can differentiate between right and wrong. Such a grand human ability!

Your second strength: “Respectful” and “Respectable.” If you are respectful and respectable, that means you respect yourself and others. You don’t do things just because other people are doing them, you do things because it brings honor to your soul and to your humanity and to the soul and to the humanity of your fellows. A respectful, respectable person is dignified and isn’t pulled into the mud by base desires of the ego. If you are respectful and respectable, therefore, you treat yourself with dignity and you treat others in a manner which befits honorable human beings, as well.

A little while ago I witnessed a scene which was out of control and completely undignified. Grown men and teenaged boys were drunk, staggering about, sloppily dropping their things, throwing up, and generally being gross. Any fun and games they might have been having ended when a minor boy (under the age of 18) passed out, hitting his head on a stone wall as he fell. Ambulances arrived, inserted a line into his veins, and whisked him away to the hospital. To me, that scene doesn’t sound respectable and respectful of people’s elevated humanity. Does it sound that way to you? Does it even sound fun to you? It doesn’t sound fun to me. I hate throwing up. I hate going to the hospital and almost dying. (The boy didn’t die, by the way. But he said he’s never going to drink again.) I hate looking like a sloppy mess.

Since you asked me, I’ll tell you my take: getting drunk sounds scary, unsafe, and not respectable. If you get drunk, then you are abandoning your rational thinking and leaving your personal safety in the hands of the people who are with you. Personally, I have never chosen to do that.

Being drunk also means that even if you have a really fun time being drunk, you won’t really remember it. So what was the point of doing it?

For females, being drunk is even more unsafe, for obvious reasons. (Think: party atmosphere, lost inhibitions, nobody thinking straight…not a smart move for anyone, and especially not for young women.) I actually had a friend who was raped in that kind of situation. Sounds like a fun party, huh? Not.

A true friend will respect you and won’t pressure you to do something you think is not right.

Your other strength will serve you well here: “Polite.” You can tell your friends “Thanks but no thanks” in a way that won’t hurt their feelings. “Nah, I’m good,” is a polite way of declining. Your politeness will help you feel okay with declining their efforts to pull you in, because your politeness will help you not hurt their feelings. HOWEVER, even though I want you to have an easier time saying “Thanks but no thanks,” I still will remind you that “friends” who try to force you to do things you don’t want to do are not true friends. A true friend will respect you and won’t pressure you to do something you think is not right. In my teenaged days, there was the slogan “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.” And the unspoken message was: if you don’t protect someone – if you allow someone to do something which will hurt him – then you’re not a real friend.

Why People Drink

So why do people drink? A few reasons. One: to escape their pain. If anyone has anything they want to forget about (even for a couple of hours), alcohol is their ride out. It’s a scary ride, a ride that involves putting their rational thought on “mute” and putting their personal safety at risk, but some people are hurting so much, they’ll hitchhike the ride from the scary trucker.

Two: to look cool. If you respect yourself enough, you don’t need alcohol (or smoking or drugs) to look cool. In fact, if you respect yourself enough, you don’t need any external trappings to impress anyone. If you respect yourself enough, you’ll just be your own good self and take the good friends who come along and appreciate you.

I was talking with a client yesterday and telling her (about her abusive boyfriend) “You don’t deserve this kind of treatment. You deserve better than this.” I will tell you the same thing: you don’t deserve that kind of treatment by “friends.” Trying to gain friends by getting drunk won’t make you feel better about yourself in the morning. (In fact, you’ll have a monster headache in the morning!)

Three: some people drink too much because they don’t realize how much they’ve had or because they don’t realize the effect the alcohol is going to have on them. The boy who collapsed (in the scene I witnessed) later said that he didn’t realize he’d drunk too much. Alcohol is tricky, because you really have to be sober to count how many drinks you’ve had, and once you’ve drunk a couple of drinks, you’re not sober, so you can’t count how many drinks you’ve had... nor can you remember…

Four: some people drink because their bodies crave alcohol. Addictive personalities have to know themselves. In Alcoholics Anonymous, members refer to themselves as “alcoholics” even if they’ve been clean and sober for years. Because they recognize that even one drink – even one sip – can put them right back into that addicted groove. And addicts have a horrific time getting off their drug of choice.

Don’t forget: alcohol is a drug. Do you want to be someone who has chosen to do drugs? A thinking, respectable, respectful, polite person has lots of options other than that.