Illustration by Hattie

The first time I drank was in ninth grade. I had root beer and tequila in my parents’ basement with a girl from up the block. I got tipsy; she got trashed. We spent the next four hours calling boys on the phone until she eventually collapsed in tears, because nobody had a crush on her. I went to bed pissed, because I “wasn’t in the mood for drama.”

There is a lot more to drinking than just consuming alcohol. Getting drunk can bring out the funniest, stupidest, most violent, worst in people. With drinking comes relationship drama, safety concerns, social tension, and vomit. Sometimes lots of vomit. Obviously, waiting until you’re of legal age is the best and least risky choice when it comes to drinking. Some people never drink alcohol at all. But in the event that you find yourself with a drink in your hand, or around others who are drinking, you’re going to need to know some stuff. This is not an endorsement of underage boozing by any means, but rather a safety guide, because it’s always better to be knowledgeable and prepared.

Helping Yourself

1. Whatever your reasons for drinking, chances are they don’t include getting sick and/or ruining your night. Keep this in mind: you have the rest of your life to drink alcohol if you want to, and I’m telling you this so you don’t feel compelled to drink everything you can get your hands on in one sitting. When I first starting drinking, there was this notion among my friends that we had to drink as much as we could as fast as we could, because otherwise somebody was going to come and take it away. THIS IS THE DUMBEST LOGIC AND THE QUICKEST WAY TO BARF OR DIE. If you are going to drink, be safe about it. Drink one drink, and then wait 20 to 30 minutes before having more. Have a glass of water between every drink. An average of one drink per hour is reasonable. See how you feel. “Drunk” doesn’t just arrive unannounced. There are signs. Does your stomach hurt? Is the room spinning? Are you having trouble walking? Stop drinking. Find a friend to make sure you get home OK. As you get older, you might come to know your limits more intuitively, but in the beginning, it’s important to actively work on pacing yourself.

2. Eat before you drink. I’m talking real, preferably absorbent meals, like pizza or pasta or something substantial, not, like, half a baby carrot. Drinking on an empty stomach = a not-so-free ride in an ambulance. Like I said, remember to drink water. Not just before drinking, but all night long. A big component of being hungover is dehydration. Drinking water throughout the night helps alleviate this.

3. Know what and how much you are drinking. This is a lot harder to ascertain at parties and in circumstances where drinking isn’t legal. My favorite drink in high school was one inch of alcohol from every bottle in my parents’ liquor cabinet, plus juice. I don’t recommend this AT ALL. If you totally ignore the rest of my advice, pleasepleaseplease make an effort to know how much you are drinking. Measure things out if you can (one shot glass of liquor = one drink). If you are at a party and somebody offers you a mixture of unknown booze, say no! Who knows what’s in it? In the best-case scenario, you will pour your own drinks, because nobody cares about your own safety as much as you do/should. If you accept a drink from a stranger, or even from a friend, you have no idea what’s in it, because you can’t know how carefully they were watching when it was poured. If something doesn’t feel right, stop drinking that drink.

4. Watch your drink. After you pour it yourself, don’t leave it on the end table while you go to the bathroom. Don’t even give it to a friend to watch, because honestly, they aren’t going to sit there and stare at a Solo cup for 20 minutes while you wait in the bathroom line. Just take it with you, and if you forget, get another one. I say this to help you avoid seriously dangerous stuff, like people adding more booze or more-potent substances to your drink, but also to help you avoid gross shit like people peeing/spitting/putting random condiments in it. Drunk people have the worst sense of humor.

5. Know your rights. Laws and penalties for underage drinking vary from place to place. In some states, “internal possession” laws have become popular, making it easier for police officers to arrest you if they can determine that alcohol is in your body (as in on your breath), even though you might not be holding a container or drink.

There are some basic things you can do to try and avoid trouble. If the police come to the door of your party—say, as a response to a noise complaint—step outside and close the door behind you. Have someone turn the music down and usher everyone inside off the porch. In most jurisdictions, police cannot enter your home unless they have witnessed illegal activity, or unless you give them permission to enter. (That said, check the laws in your own city before you host or attend a party.) Ask the officer, “Can I help you with something?” Be polite and keep your answers brief. In the event that you are arrested or detained, say that you will not answer questions until you have a lawyer present. If you are not sure if you are being detained, ask the officer, “Am I free to go?”

Be aware that your parents can get in serious, expensive legal trouble for “permitting” underage drinking in their house, even if they had no idea it was happening. People over 21 can get in trouble for buying you alcohol, and your friends who are 18 or older can get busted for child endangerment if they’re caught drinking with you. And yes, your fake ID is illegal, even if it’s a real ID that once belonged to your older sister. Knowing your rights will help you make choices that make you feel safe. If you live in the United States, this is a good resource to read.

6. Don’t drive. Don’t get in a car with someone who’s been drinking. Just don’t ever do it. I don’t care if your mom is the leader of a temperance movement, I guarantee you that your parents would much rather you sleep over at someone’s house or call them for a ride than risk it. Getting in trouble is wholly preferable to death.

Helping others

1. Be a friend. Look out for others as much as you hope they’d look out for you. This is a super broad rule of thumb that encompasses a lot of simple considerations. Here are some basic ones: (a) Don’t pressure other people to drink, ever, and never more than they are comfortable with. Defend people who’ve said they’ve had enough. (b) Keep an eye on your friends. Is everyone you arrived with still at the party? If you haven’t seen a friend in a while, text them. Look for them. Likewise, if you are going somewhere, like to the porch to make out (get it, girl!), try to let a friend know so they don’t worry. If you are leaving with a different group than you came with, check in with your ride to make sure that everyone’s OK and that you aren’t abandoning anyone.

2. Be mad in the morning. Drinking breeds drama. Ill-advised hookups happen. Mean things are said. When a drunk person messes with you, you are going to want to be mad RIGHT THEN, especially if you have been drinking. Trust me, don’t bother. Arguing when drunk is never fruitful, and both sides run the risk of saying things they don’t mean. It’s best to just remove yourself from the situation and deal with it in the morning when everyone’s sobered up.

3. Don’t have sex with drunk people. Hell, if you have even the slightest inkling that someone can’t give informed consent, don’t even graze their butt with the back of your hand. Consent is an explicit statement that says, “Yes, I want to do [sexytimes activity] with you,” but it doesn’t count if the person saying it is too drunk to know what they mean. Some people refer to drunk sex as a gray area, because there are (tons of) people who get it on while drunk and don’t regret it. I can’t delineate gray areas, so I will stick to the facts. When you are drunk, your judgment and motor skills are impaired. Period. Ask yourself questions like: “Would I feel comfortable letting this person pick out an outfit for an important event right now?” or “Could they tie their shoes?” If their state of mind does not allow for this kind of basic consideration or dexterity, they definitely don’t have it together enough to make decisions about whom to sleep with or how to operate birth control correctly. If you have any doubts here, back off. Likewise, if you see somebody going for it with someone who’s clearly too drunk, step in. Give your friends an out if you see someone trying to take advantage of them. Call their phone or interrupt their conversation if you have to. BODILY DRAG THEM AWAY IF YOU HAVE TO.

You might want to set some boundaries with friends before you go to the party or wherever. Discuss undesirable things that might happen, and give them the OK to step in if they think they might need to. Drunk people can be really stubborn about getting their way, but if your friends know that you trust them, they’ll know to keep pushing until you give up, and you can do the same for them.

4. Don’t let drunk people drive. Do your absolute best to stop a drunk person from getting behind the wheel. Never fall for lines like, “I’m not that drunk” or “I drive better when I’m drunk.” They are, and they don’t. Hide keys as needed. If you can’t get someone’s keys, try to get their wallet or phone—something they won’t leave without. If you can, help the person get a ride home. Put the number of the local cab company in your phone before you go out. If you can’t get someone a ride home, encourage them to sleep over. Make it a group effort. In this case, peer pressure is good. Someone is more likely to stay away from their car if they sense a social stigma about driving drunk.

5. Know when to get help. You are inevitably going to end up in charge of a too-drunk person at some point in your life. Some signs a person is probably too drunk include violence, hurting themselves, randomly lying down and refusing to get up, vomiting, or passing out. You kinda have to use your judgment in this situation, which is totally stressful. Feel free (and encouraged) to immediately hand your drunk person off to a responsible adult or medical professional to deal with. In the event that you can’t or choose not to, here are some things you should do:

  • Stop them from drinking more. If they want another drink, give them a cup of water. They are too drunk and won’t know the difference.
  • Get them out of harm’s way. Sit them down. Move them out of a crowd. Stay with them. A too-drunk person absolutely needs to be watched. Make sure they are breathing and that if they vomit, they do it sitting upright or laying on their side so they don’t choke.
  • Coffee, bread, and cold showers do nothing to sober up a drunk person. The only thing that will help is time, during which their body can process the alcohol. In the meantime, help them drink water so they don’t get dehydrated.
  • If someone passes out (becomes unconscious), you should lay them on their side in the recovery position. At this point, things are serious and you should get help. Listen to make sure that their breathing is normal, and nudge them often to make sure that they respond. Blue lips and cold hands and feet are both signs of alcohol poisoning. Call 911 (or your country’s emergency number) immediately. Stay with the person until help comes. Don’t worry about getting in trouble. Another person’s life is more important than getting grounded or getting a citation for underage drinking. Lots of places have amnesty laws that make sure that underage drinkers who help their friends seek medical attention are not prosecuted.

Honestly, this is a ton of stuff to remember. If you remember one thing, let it be that drinking might be one of the first things you do in your life that has real and tangible risks. When you make choices, make them deliberately. Think things through. Never put fun ahead of your own or other people’s well-being. Be safe, you guys! We like having you around. ♦