12/17/2013 01:00 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

College Friends Home On Break? Drink This In

Note: In 30 years as a college counselor, I've never talked with a student or former student about this issue. I guess that's why I wanted to write this column.

"Dr. O'Connor?"

"James! The college freshman returns to his alma mater!"

"A little older and wiser. Thanks for your help last year."

"I just signed a few forms and pointed at the calendar."

"You did more than that. And I'm wondering if I could ask for a little more help now."

"Of course. What's up?"

"Dr. O'Connor, my sister's home from college."

"How's Marjorie enjoying her second year?"

"She's still acing all of her classes, and picked a major."


"I mean, loves it. A lot."


"She's dating this older guy who seems to have the inside track on every party on campus and off."

"I see."

"He lives across town, and his parents are gone this weekend, so he's throwing a party at his house, and Marjie wants -- um, a friend of mine -- to go to the party with her."

"A friend, eh? Kind of rude that she didn't invite you."

"Yeah, well, you know sisters. Do you like beer, Dr. O'Connor?"

"Not at all, James. Tried it a few times, but I could never get used to the taste."

"Well, right -- I mean, I understand that from a theoretical perspective."

"Of course."

"But you could get used to the taste, if you stuck with it for a while."

"That's true, James, but the same can be said for Brussels sprouts."

"I hate those."

"Me too. So I don't put those in my body, either."

"Right, but beer is different, because... because..."

"Ya know, James, I once went drinking when I was a student teacher."


"We had a great time, and in the course of the evening, I drank, in this order, a Kahlua and cream, a Grasshopper and a margarita."

"A Kah and a Gra and then a..? Dr. O'Connor, that combination could make you... I mean... "

"You mean, it has the theoretical potential to take somebody out for the night?"


"Well, it didn't. I drove home, and I was fine. I got up the next morning, and I was fine. I came home from a wonderful day with the first- and second-graders, and I was fine."


"And that's when I realized I should never drink again."

"Right. Wait. What?"

"I knew if I could put that triumvirate of trauma in my system without any impact, I could go on to impress people with my mad drinking skills. But what would that do to my body and my reputation and my bank account and my life?"

"You thought that far down the road when you were in college?"

"That's why the drinking age is 21 in the U.S. Twenty-one is much closer than 18 to the age when most people, especially boys, are really able to see the big picture."

"Yeah, but in Europe -- "

"Many countries in Europe with lower drinking ages have higher driving ages. Common sense tells most cultures that young people can do one or the other at an early age, but not both."

"Until they grow up?"

"In more ways than one."

"Right, but when you got older -- "

"Hey, I know other people make different decisions in those circumstances and learn to drink responsibly as adults, which is great. I drink responsibly too, and I've always been happy with my decision."

"Huh. So, about that party?"

"James, state law prohibits drinking by anyone under 21, so if your friend is underage, that's a compelling reason right there. In addition, if this friend is a student at this school, and I find out they're arrested for any alcohol violation, I'm required to update that student's secondary school report when I submit first semester grades."

"You have to tell the colleges?"

"If they ask about a student's arrest record, and I know about it, absolutely."

"Wow. Guess it's a good thing he's not a student here anymore."

"Yeah. Good thing."

"But that's only if they get caught."

"That's what Oliver was thinking."

"Another one of your students?"

"Guy I knew in high school. He went out over Christmas break in his freshman year of college and drank for hours. He crashed his car into a tree, and was laid up for weeks."


"Once he came to, he sued the bar that served him."


"Well, he was underage, so technically, the bar was partially to blame for his condition."

"And he won?"

"He settled out of court for big money. He blew it on a fast car, and started drinking again. In four months, he'd spent all the money, and lost all of his friends."

"Geez. Marjie."

"What was that, James?"

"Huh? Uh, nothing. Hey, Dr. O'Connor, it was good catching up, but I better..."

"...catch up with your friend? Anytime, James. But what about the party?"

"I just remembered. My parents are taking me, Marjie and her boyfriend to the hockey game over break. I'll have a chance to meet him then."

"James, you scream like a wild man at hockey games. That should make your first meeting memorable."

"Sure will, Dr. O'Connor. But memorable in the right way."