So you wanna be an alcoholic

A form letter to the new crop of college kids

Jaime O’Neill is a semi-retired Butte College English instructor who writes regularly for the CN&R, as well as other publications.

Welcome, young person, to the college of your choice. In choosing to pursue higher education, you’ve identified yourself as one of that vast number of young people who are actively pursuing getting higher, and seeking opportunities to do so more often and more conveniently than you could back home, where the annoying presence of your parents or guardians sometimes thwarted your pursuit of this forbidden pleasure.

Now you’re free of those impediments and in the company of a great many other likeminded young people, scaling a steep learning curve that will introduce you to brands of liquor and methods of consumption you hadn’t dreamed of back in the days when your partying was conscribed by the irregular availability of some other kid’s parents’ house when his or her folks were on vacation.

So welcome, young reveler, to the wonderful world of unlimited freedom, and the binge drinking that so often accompanies it. You are embarked on a journey that will, if you’re fairly typical, deliver you to the doors of an AA meeting a couple of decades hence, once you’ve burned through a marriage or two, not to mention a few jobs that might have seemed promising before you began missing work.

In your first years of this journey, you’re going to have your share of fun and frolic, along with the occasional disgorging of the contents of your stomach. You will also know the adult experience of mind-fogging hangovers that have been designed by a benevolent culture to coincide with mid-term exams and other occasions when a clear head might come in handy.

Not all of you are destined to become alcoholics, of course. As with those who enroll in advanced calculus, not everyone can hack what is required. But, if you’re willing to stick with the program, you will almost certainly be able one day to count yourself among this nation’s 14 million confirmed alcoholics, many of whom started their paths to that objective right where you are now—in a college of their choice.

And, if you have decided that a fraternity or a sorority is right for you, you’ve probably increased your odds of joining that even bigger brotherhood (or sisterhood) of dipsomaniacs out in what the grown-ups are fond of calling “the real world,” which is a euphemism designed to encompass their own peculiar set of delusions.

In the first years of indoctrination that lie before you, you’ll be introduced to the notion that sophistication attaches itself to things you think up and then commit to speech while drunk. You will come to think that such bilious bon mots are irresistibly charming and/or profound. That fallacy will be accompanied by the desire to say these charming or piercing insights over and over again, which usually requires you to be in constant search of new conversational partners at any of the hundreds of parties you will be attending.

This quest for someone who relishes hearing you repeat yourself incessantly will not only broaden your range of social skills, it will also inevitably lead to a number of sexual partners, the possibility of one or more sexually transmitted diseases and, most probable of all, a mate.

There’s some likelihood that your mate will share your fondness for states of consciousness that make repetition and regurgitation seem like pretty good leisure-time activities. Should it happen, however, that your mate does not share your enthusiasms in this regard, he or she will most likely be chalked up as one or another of the marital dissolutions that await you in the years after your college education is complete and your real education begins.

Could you become an alcoholic without the time and expense of going to college? Of course you could, but there are a number of advantages to entering the wonderful world of alcohol addiction through this time-honored method. First, you will gain a higher class of fellow imbibers (in fact, unless you go to a fairly good college, you’ll never even know what the word “imbiber” means).

And you’ll generally drink better brands of booze after four or more years of college, never stooping to accepting the stuff served out of the “well,” that place most bars have from whence they dispense the cheaper stuff. No, it’ll be mostly call brands for you, at least until the last five or six years of your journey toward AA.

If you’re especially lucky, you’ll even be able to spend many of those years well off enough to consume the products in hotel mini-bars, most of which are priced beyond the reach of 92.6 percent of the human population of the planet.

So, welcome aboard, young freshperson. Though you may graduate from college bereft of knowledge of the history of the planet, or its physical configuration, or lots of other things colleges dole out to their attendees, you will not depart lacking a thorough introduction to the rituals, rigamaroles and registered brand names associated with alcohol consumption.

It won’t be noted on your degree anywhere, but the time and energy devoted to these pursuits over the course of your college years will far exceed what you’re likely to have given to your major.

One last word of caution: There will be times when you’ll feel like giving up, mornings when the light of the sun or the memories of the night before make you want to drop out. Just remember that many before you have felt this same sense of discouragement and defeat. Give your body a little time to renew itself, however, and you’ll be right back out there drinking beer and Jägermeister with the best of ’em, secure in the knowledge that nothing notable was ever achieved by those who drop out.