Halloween marks the start of a long party season for college students. After Halloween, it’s a never ending line of holidays and celebrations all the way up until St. Patty's day, providing an excuse for students to party and even more so, drink. Despite being in the middle of week, Oct. 31 is all about the booze and boos. For other students that have chosen to abstain from drinking during their college career, it’s just another Wednesday.
Henry Thiry, a sophomore in business management, considers himself 100 percent sober. His choice stems from a family history of alcohol abuse and a drive to stay successful in college.
“I tried to make it as least likely as possible for me to get involved with anything like that (addiction) and in college everything has a lot of peer pressure. I thought the easiest way to refrain would be to cut myself off completely,” Thiry said.
Thiry says choosing the sober life has affected his ability to enjoy a standard college party.
“Everyone gets hammered or close to it. Being sober, it's hard to interact with someone that's completely inebriated and hold a conversation. It’s not fun for me,” Thiry said.
Along with the discomfort partying gives him, Thiry also thinks his time could be used more productively. He prefers volunteering for political candidates, working with RSOs and doing homework.
“In the realm of politics or anything that I put a lot of time into, I don’t wanna have any results that make me feel like I could have done more. I want to maximize my time doing things other than that (drinking). I find it enjoyable and productive,” Thiry said.
As for Halloween, Thiry plans on doing what he always does: studying or working, not celebrating with a drink.
WMU medical student Jay Patel also prefers to use his time working towards a bigger goal. Patel says as a medical student, taking time to drink and party is scarce if you want to succeed. Before he turned 20, he drank on occasion with his friends. Now, a few years later, he is totally sober from drugs and alcohol, a choice that came from an incident he witnessed during his undergraduate years at Rutgers University.
Patel witnessed a friend get so intoxicated that he picked random fights, hurt a friend, broke windows, and harassed female party goers. Seeing that behavior made Patel choose to never go down that path.
“I think alcohol is used for excuses,” Patel said. “It’s to say and do things you want to do, but wouldn't do sober. People think ‘oh I’m drunk so whatever I can do this.’"
Around the time he went sober, Patel was also learning about general health. He cleaned up his diet, developed a healthy sleep and fitness schedule, and learned through that process that alcohol has no benefits, in regards to health.
“Academically, you’ll have more focus without it. You don't have any days where you’re sleepy from staying up drinking. If you stop (drinking), you’ll see improvements in focus, grades, everything,” Patel said.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism confirms Patel’s theory. According to them, 1 in 4 college students report falling behind academically, missing class and doing poorly on exams due to drinking.
Quitting drinking affected Patel's relationship with old friends and he ended up developing a new group.
“Drinking is what most people want to do. So if you don't drink, you just get different friends. There are people that don’t want to, but it is limiting to your social circles. Most of my friends don't drink at all or very little,” Patel said.
For fun, Patel and his friends keep it simple. In regards to holiday celebrations, he said the most off-putting part for him is the time of night these festivities occur.
“You don't have to do something at 2 a.m. I won’t stay up that late for anything. For fun we played a lot of sports, we’ll see movies, eat out, all the normal stuff just without the drinking. And we can be in bed at a decent time,” Patel said.
Moving to Kalamazoo, a city that prides itself in breweries and beer culture, has been harder for Patel.
“There's nothing else to do in Kalamazoo if you’re sober,” Patel said.
The city’s atmosphere has limited his social life, the places he can go, and overall ability to ground himself in Kalamazoo.
“It’s harder to meet people. But I’m set in stone in my decision anyways. I’m Hindu, and in my culture, drinking is looked down upon. That’s not my main reason for quitting, but it certainly helps,” Patel said.
Like Thiry, Patel plans on spending his Halloween, along with the rest of the typical “party holidays” living like it's every other day by being productive in getting in bed by 10pm.
Joining Thiry and Patel in abstaining from Halloween drinking is Hannah McNeil, a senior in political science. For McNeil, a sober lifestyle is a less of a choice and more of a necessity. She is a recovering alcoholic and addict that suffered severe health consequences due to her heavy drinking. McNeil contracted HPV as a teenager. In the rare cases that HPV manifest into cervical cancer, it usually doesn't until women are much older. McNeils progressed into cervical cancer just two months after her HPV diagnosis.
“The doctors basically told me that my immune system was compromised because of my constant drinking and drug use. That’s why it happened so quickly,” she said.
By the age of 21, McNeil had a large chunk of her cervix and portions of her fallopian tubes removed alone with liver cirrhosis and fatty liver.
“Everything is back to normal now. I’m six months sober. My liver bounced back very quickly once I stopped drinking. I also stopped all drug use, except for occasionally I smoke weed but my problem was with harder drugs not that,” McNeil said.
Her health problems were the ultimate deciding factor in going sober.
“I mostly felt like a dumbass. I thought, ‘how is this even possible. I’m supposed to be impervious.’ I was 19-20 years old,” McNeil said.
Now, her social life has drastically changed.
“Before I got sober, I ran a house venue and was a booking manager at a bar. I partied a lot. After I got sober, I socially went from incredibly active in the Vine (student neighborhood) to almost nothing at all there,” McNeil said.
As a result though, McNeil is developing a newer college friend group.
“I have a lot of cool, new friendships and I got a roommate that doesn't drink or mess with drugs. I have a smaller social circle, but I still feel satisfied.”
The hardest part about getting sober for Mcneil has been combating boredom.
“Before being sober, you aren't bored. You’re partying, you’re inchorent, you’re fucked up out of your mind so it doesn't matter,” McNeil said.
To distract herself from old habits, Mcneil has picked up several new hobbies like taxidermy, cosmetic tattooing, and cartistry (card tricks).
“Basically, I do whatever I can get my hands on. It’s a struggle because if I’m bored, the first thing I want to do is drink.”
Getting to this point was a shock at first.
“It’s cliche to say, but I thought it couldn't happen to me. And it did happen, before I knew it, so suddenly. I went from being a casual drinker, casual user, to being drunk all day and night. I overdoses a few times, was sexually assaulted while buying drugs… this stuff happens so quickly,” she said.
“You just think if you experiment with drugs and drink a little you’re so ‘fun and quirky’. A couple months go by and then you’re submerged in it. If you don't have that self awareness, and no one in your social circle does, then no one calls you out in it,” McNeil said.
Now that she is living a sober lifestyle, McNeil is seeing college drinking culture from a new lense.
“It happens because it feels good. Maybe it stops feeling good after awhile but in the beginning it does. We want to hold onto that.” she said.
“Also, this is a city of breweries. We do promote drinking culture. It gets glamorized a lot,” McNeil said.
Living in a place that glamorizes drinking has made her feel “socially isolated” sometimes but physically, she feels a lot better. And for incoming freshman, she wants to make one thing clear.
“For the longest time I thought what I was doing was normal. Drinking every day, blacking out all the time, is not normal,” McNeil said.
This will be the first holiday season sober for McNeil.
“My dad, the only family I really have has been respectful about it. But I know I will be tempted because of drinking around the holidays. I haven't even thought about how I will spend them,“ McNeil said.
But whatever McNeil decides, like Patel and Thiry, the holiday’s will be spent sober.