Things No One Tells You About College: Drugs & Alcohol

I am of course not going to tell you to try all the drugs and booze you can get your hands on in college. I am obliged by the tradition of covering my ass to mention that you can hurt yourself with them if you're not careful, that you can get into a great deal of legal trouble over them, and that at least in most parts of the US, having a drug charge on your record automatically renders you ineligible for some kinds of financial aid, and might get you kicked out of school.

The above has never in the entire course of history actually prevented any sufficiently-determined human being from getting wasted. Running for a moment with the fiction that you are all squeaky clean little boys and girls who would never think of touching the locoweed or the demon rum, I am going to pretend that you have a "friend" who is thinking of getting into these sorts of things, and I am therefore going to give you some advice to pass on to them.

First off: If you're going to do drugs, do some goddamn research first. Always make sure you know what you're taking. is a pretty good clearinghouse for drug information -- a lot of their FAQ files contain proper references to articles in JAMA and NEJM and other such prestigious publications. Don't just look up what the chemical name is or what common street forms look like; look up what that shit does. Erowid has trip reports that tell you how other people said it made them feel, what sort of side effects there were, how long it took to kick the experimental subject in the head and how long it took to wear off. Erowid also has a lot of stories from people who are utter fucking morons and took ALL THE DRUGS at the same time, and apparently have no problem typing up their experiences so they can lead by counterexample.

Do the dosage math while sober, and always take less than you think you need. It's easy to drink another daiquiri or take another pill later if nothing happens, but the only way to take less drugs after they've all gone down the hatch is unpleasantly bulimic, and might not work anyway. You do not want to go to the ER to get your stomach pumped. You also do not want to pay the bill for having your stomach pumped in the ER. It will eat into your beer fund something ferocious.

Never ever ever ever mix chemicals that you do not know exactly what the fuck these things will do in combination. Particularly never mix chemicals in the same class of drugs, e.g., do not mix alcohol and Klonopin, because they are both depressants. There is an excellent chance that you will die. Seriously. Die. For the purposes of this warning, "chemicals" refers to absolutely anything that has any pharmacological effect on the body at all, including weird things like grapefruit juice, which happens to inhibit a liver enzyme that breaks a lot of fun things down. The one exception to this is that, if you're getting some kind of annoying but minor side effect -- like, say, flushing, or a vague itchy sensation -- you can take a standard dose of Benadryl (25-50 mg diphenhydramine HCl) and see if it goes away in 20-30 minutes. And if anything catastrophic happens, you tell the urgent care doctor you did that. It's the first thing they'll do anyway, and they'll want to know so they don't inadvertently double-dose you. Diphenhydramine technically has "recreational" uses, but having had loads of the stuff for actual allergies, I can tell you for a fact that it's only "fun" in comparison to having a sinus migraine and blowing your nose raw.

Never chemically alter yourself around anyone you don't like. You would think this would be obvious, but for some reason people keep coming to the conclusion that being wasted will make other people more enjoyable. It doesn't. Sometimes it makes the obnoxious people seem slightly quieter and farther away, which is the exact reason I decided to try drinking at a family Christmas party ca. age 17, but that's not the root of the problem here. A much more effective way to fix that is to stop hanging around with people who make you want to dump more skill points into Ignoring Them. You'll find you have an amazing amount of free time, which you can then use to hang around much cooler people, who you drink with because sangría tastes good and makes it seem much more amusing to throw the collected bedding of all of the housemates onto the floor of the living room and nest in it while heckling stupid movies. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn't act like a hyperactive 12-year-old around them while sober, then you shouldn't bother drinking with them either.

Always have at least one un-bent person around. Drinkers usually refer to a "designated driver"; psychonauts more often talk of a "sober sitter". This should be someone you trust, ideally someone who is known to have a lot of patience herding what are essentially very tall toddlers around when they can't remember how to work their feet. This person is in charge of making sure you don't do anything you'll really regret later, getting you medical help in the unlikely event that you need it, ordering the pizza when you are too high to operate this alien contraption they call a "phone", and making you drink a lot of water so you can peel your hungover eyelids open in the morning. Make sure it's someone who isn't easily freaked out by people babbling nonsense. The sober person is also usually in charge of the toy box -- drunks and stoners are easily entertained by the same kinds of cheap tchotchkes you give kindergartners, like dollar-store crayons and glow sticks. On the more expensive end of things, the Nintendo Wii is quite possibly the most glorious device ever made for keeping bored and wasted people occupied for an evening, especially after they sent out wrist straps and padded all the sharp corners on the Wiimotes.

This is probably the only time in your life that anyone will ever tell you this straight out, but if there is one thing you should remember about getting hammered, it is this: Recreational drugs are only for when you have nothing better to do. I mean that literally. They are not for getting through exams, avoiding unpleasant chores, allowing you to cope with a roommate who runs up $4000 phone bills calling home to Yog-Shoggoth at 3 am the night before your early-morning class, waking up in the morning, going to sleep at night, pretending your romantic life isn't falling apart, or giving you the personality transplant you think you need in order to speak coherently in front of attractive people of your desired gender(s). If this is what you're using them for, you're doing it wrong. Go find a doctor and have your problem professionally fixed. I say this as someone who lollophed along alone with a crippling anxiety disorder for a couple of decades, and now has a big honkin' official bottle of Xanax in her bedside table. Recreational drugs might kinda-sorta make you feel like the problem has gone away for a little while, and which ones make you feel better temporarily might give you a clue as to what's actually wrong, but they're just a patch, and not even an especially good one.

Get sorted so that you can properly enjoy being high, is what I'm saying here. Alcohol and hallucinogens especially just magnify whatever's going on inside your head when you knock them back. If you're in a shitty mood when you start hammering drinks, you will still be in a shitty mood when you're out of beers, and on top of that you will have the spins, maybe need to puke, and possibly also be crying in a singularly unattractive and snotty fashion. Dropping acid when you're in a scary place psychologically will not make you happier; it'll just land you in a much more realistic-looking scary place, and you'll wind up curled up in the fetal position under the coffee table, whimpering about the meaningless void of existence while imaginary trees try to eat you from the eyeballs inward.

And if you do wind up at the ER for something, never lie to the doctor. They sincerely do not care what stupid, embarrassing, illegal or immoral thing you were up to when you decided it was an emergency. They just want to not accidentally kill you. Laws vary by region, but generally emergency department staff are only required to report cases of suspected child abuse, and in some regions, they are required to report gunshot wounds (not necessarily as assault -- mostly for statistical purposes). The ER staff does not care how legal your drugs aren't. You are a college student, you are probably an adult, which means they couldn't tell your parents anything without your consent anyhow. Getting you arrested for drugs or underage drinking would be a shitload of paperwork that they are not going to hang around and do if they can just treat you and send you back home with a sober friend instead. They can call the cops on you for a general "public intoxication" charge, but they'll only do that if you're belligerent, disruptive, or taking a swing at random doctors. Don't be a dick, and you'll be fine.

Just for emphasis: YOU ALWAYS TELL THE DOCTOR WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING. There is nothing so embarrassing that it is worth fucking up your medical care to avoid talking about.