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No alcohol? No problem. Students share their experiences abstaining from alcohol

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Lehigh University just received an A+ in both academics and party scene by Business Insider, which rated the most intense colleges in America. Out of 30 schools, Lehigh placed sixth on the list.

Typically, the college party scene is associated with drinking, but that is not necessarily the experience for all students. There are many students on Lehigh’s campus choosing to abstain from drinking for a variety of reasons. For them, “work hard, play hard” does not have to entail drinking, and they find there are a lot of ways to have fun on campus without a sip of liquid courage.

Georgie Brattland, ’17, opts out of drinking because she doesn’t like the aftermath of alcohol consumption.

“I used to drink — I used to drink a lot,” Brattland said.

However, she said, she didn’t like the headaches she would experience the next day and her lack of memory from the night before.

“I realized I didn’t want my college experience to frame around nights I didn’t remember,” she said.

Brattland feels she is the same person drunk or sober. She said she still has the same number of friends and the same amount of fun while sober.

She said she would prefer to have the same amount of fun and be able to function the next day, rather than wake up hungover and have it impede her schoolwork.

“I feel like I am just as fun sober as I was when I was drunk, and my friends say the same thing,” Brattland said.

She still partakes in Lehigh’s party scene just as much as she did when she drank. She said she has no problem being around alcohol.

When she first made the switch, Brattland said a lot of people didn’t understand her decision. Many people feel the need to drink to be more social, but that’s not the case for Brattland.

“I think people can’t comprehend that fact that I can have fun without drinking because a lot of people can’t,” Brattland said. “I guess people just couldn’t see themselves doing it, so they think no one else could.”

Brattland said not drinking has not affected her Lehigh experience.

“I have the exact same amount of fun at parties as I did when I drank,” she said. “I talk to the exact same people as I would have if I was drunk. I have all the same friends and I go to all the same houses. I really don’t think it changes anything.”

Andrew Schillaci, ’17, made the decision to live in CHOICE housing, a substance-free living  community, before coming to Lehigh. Schillaci’s decision was in part due to his Catholic upbringing and the clean values they preached.

“That was something very important to me, and I knew coming to a place like Lehigh, where it is a top party school, that drinking was a part of the culture,” Schillaci said.

He said being in CHOICE helped him stay away from some of the traps people fall into when starting college.

In addition to Schillaci’s Catholic values, he also cherishes baseball, which he trained for in high school, but decided not to play on the team in college. In high school, Schillaci used the excuse of his dedication to baseball when asked if he wanted to drink.

“People would understand it more,” Schillaci said.

Now, not having the baseball excuse, he feels people understand his clean lifestyle less.

Schillaci spends a lot of time at the gym training even though he is no longer on a team. He plays basketball at Taylor Gym with a small team, and they host tournaments.

On the weekends, Schillaci does a lot of events with CRU, the Christian fellowship on campus. He participates in community events such as ice skating or hanging out with friends. He also attends cultural parties on campus, but always abstains from drinking.

Schillaci said his decision not to drink puts more pressure on him since his friends hold him to a higher standard.

“I actually like it,” Schillaci said, “It makes me more of a leader and shows me how many people look at what I do and are inspired.”

He also does readings at church, which puts him more in the public eye. This puts more pressure on him to be a leader in the Lehigh community.

Schillaci said he doesn’t feel left out at Lehigh, but he does notice a big divide among Greek and non-Greek students.

“I don’t feel personally ostracized but I can see avenues where (Greeks and non-Greeks) can come together more often,” he said.

Ultimately, Schillaci said not drinking in college has made him a more health-conscious person, and he works to keep up a healthy lifestyle.

“For as long as I can remember, my life’s motto has been ‘work hard, play silly,'” Veronica McKinny, ’18, said. “I’m silly enough sober, so I don’t feel I need alcohol to have fun,”

McKinny chooses to steer away from alcohol because of her family’s history with alcoholism. Her grandmother on her dad’s side was an alcoholic, as was her great grandfather on her mother’s side.

She said this history of alcohol abuse largely contributes to her disinterest in drinking.

When, or if, McKinny starts to drink, she wants to be around people she trusts and who know her well.

“I have lots of amazing and supportive friends, and I do trust the Lehigh student body,” she said. “I just have no real want for alcohol.”

McKinny spends her time with friends at Lehigh After Dark events and free concerts. She likes to explore Lehigh and the Bethlehem community, as well as attend local festivals.

McKinny said she does go to parties and doesn’t mind being around alcohol — she just doesn’t want to be the one ingesting it.

“It’s a group joke that when we talk about people getting crunk my friends say, ‘Oh yeah, Veronica is going to get super drunk this weekend,’” she said. “And it’s funny because everyone knows I don’t drink, so we get good chuckles.”

McKinny said she never feels any pressure from friends and is lucky to have their support. She said she never felt people thought less of her because she doesn’t drink, and that everyone seems to respect her decision.

Peter Schaedler, ‘17, said he never felt the need to drink.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with drinking, and I do think at some point I will start drinking, I just haven’t felt the need to yet.”

Schaedler said he likes to feel in control and chooses not to drink because he does not want alcohol to cloud his ability to think rationally. He made the decision to live in CHOICE housing his freshman year. He is still close with the friends he made in CHOICE and continues to live with them now.

Schaedler dedicates a lot of his time to being in class and doing extracurricular activities. He is a member of the Marching 97 and spends a lot of time with the band.

“You could call me a little bit of a social justice warrior of the band,” he said. “We have a lot of drinking songs, and sometimes I will swap out the lyrics with non-alcohol related things.”

He said he made a reputation for himself as being the guy who brings a bottle of Pepsi with him to every party.

Schaedler said he has noticed that when he abstains from drinking at parties, the people who are drinking think he views himself as superior.

“Just because someone isn’t drinking doesn’t mean they are superior, just that they have a different set of values and made a different choice,” he said.

Abstaining from drinking has not changed Schaedler’s overall Lehigh experience, but has made him more aware of other choices.

“I’ve actually done a fair amount of research into reasons why people do or don’t drink,” he said. “One source I found mentioned that people may drink because that effectively puts them in control of their feelings. They get to choose to be a bit more carefree instead of being forced to be stressed/sad/angry/etc. by their own mind.”

Schaedler said he chooses not to drink because he feels alcohol would cause him to be out of control, meanwhile his research showed that people choose to drink to manipulate their emotions in a similar manner.

“The point here is that different people can accomplish the same goal in completely opposite ways,” Schaedler said.

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