What I wish I knew when I got drunk for the first time

Allow me to paint a scene. I’m 15-years-old and at my friend Sarah’s house. It’s not a party-party but somehow when you’re in high school, and nobody’s parents are home, eight kids sitting in an upstairs office can feel like a serious event.

If you’d asked me that night if I’d ever drank before, my answer would have been “yes.” I’d had beer at house parties, and small glasses of champagne at fancy dinners with my parents. I’d snuck Manischewitz wine at bar mitzvahs with the best of them. If you’d asked me that night if I’d ever been drunk, my answer would have also probably been “yes” (but only for street cred purposes, I’d definitely never been actually drunk).

That night at Sarah’s, a few people went to the corner bodega to stock up on Mike’s Hard Lemonade and 40s of beer — when they came back from their shopping adventure, we opened the brown paper bags of booze as if it were sunken treasure. Flash forward about four hours and I’m puking up said sunken treasure in my friend’s bathroom, praying to all the alcohol gods to make the room stop spinning and allow me to just feel normal again.

There are a lot of reasons why I got drunk that night: My boyfriend was there and I felt like I needed to show off—I had a reputation as a goody-two-shoes that I wanted to put the kibosh on—and (frankly) because I didn’t quite know yet what my personal tolerance was to booze. Suffice to say, my personal tolerance is not a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (which I have never had again or since), and my tolerance certainly has no patience for drinking games where extreme chugging is involved (the game we played that night meant chugging for as long as the person next to you chugged…the person next to me happened to be my boyfriend).

But the main reason I got drunk that night is because I was young, and experimenting, and learning about myself and my personal limits. Do I regret that night? Maybe. Do I wish I’d gotten a little less drunk? Definitely. Of course this wasn’t the last night I ever got drunk, and I’m sure there will be more drunken nights in my future. But I do wish, I so so wish, that rather than simply telling me not to drink, some grownup person had sat me down and told me a few things about the risks of drinking and what it really feels like. Would I have listened to them? Probably not. But maybe (maybe?) if I did, the night would have gone a little differently. Here’s what I wish someone would have told me:

Don’t drink to impress anyone.

I put this at the top of the list because it’s exactly what I was doing. I was trying to impress my boyfriend, and my friends — I wanted to prove that I was “cool,” that I wasn’t a total rule follower, or a priss. If 28-year-old me could have a five-minute talk with 15-year-old me, she’d tell her that getting drunk actually impresses no one. Why? Because most people are too worried about how they’re coming across to be worried about you. Plus, getting sick from drinking will sooner gross people out than blow their minds — not to mention it’s totally terrible for your body.

You don’t have to keep pace with anyone.

This was another of my mistakes. People are going to go “shot for shot,” and there is always one person (even when you’re 28) who tells you you’re “totally lame” for not drinking as much as everyone else. Don’t listen to them, listen to you. As I already confessed, that night I was trying to keep chugging-pace and it ended in a total vomit-y disaster. It was gross, I felt terrible, and I bet the seven other people who were there that night currently have no memory of whether or not I kept pace with them. Long story short, people have different tolerances and comfort levels. I wish I had known not to match my own to someone else’s.

Chugging will almost 100% make you feel sick.

This is just a PSA that I feel like everyone should hear at least once. Allow me to say it again for good measure: Chugging will almost 100% make you feel sick. Promise.

You think you look amazing in that picture, but you’re probably going to hate it tomorrow.

There’s something about being drunk that makes us want to take 10,000 pictures and post them all to social media. I say this to you with so much love: It’s a TERRIBLE idea. You probably think you look like your best, most gorgeous self, but when you see that picture in the morning you won’t believe how closed your eyes look, or how shiny your face is, or why no one told you that your hair looked so nest-like. That said, at least one of the incriminating pictures you took will likely be hilarious so don’t stop taking the pictures, maybe just wait ’til the next morning to post.

Don’t drink all of the things.

Mixing alcohols is a bad idea. If you haven’t yet learned this for yourself, you will. Maybe stick to one beverage for the night? Or at least one color of liquor? You will thank yourself in the morning.

Also, a little trick from my mom that got me through college: Literally no one has a clue (or really cares) what’s in your cup. So if you don’t feel like drinking anymore (or at all), fill your Solo with seltzer and cranberry juice and leave the vodka for someone else. You will feel a little less self conscious with a glass in your hand, and you won’t be over-served. Voila.

This isn’t the time to have a heart-to-heart.

Being drunk often makes you (or at least me) want to pour my heart out to anyone who will listen. The world will suddenly feel like your best friend. You’ll put your arms around a random girl and say things like, “why don’t we hang out more??” Well spoiler alert, that person is not your best friend so now’s probably not the time to tell her a secret you’ll regret having shared in the morning. A word from the wise: Only your best friend is your best friend, and if you’re drunk she’s probably the one trying to hand you a glass of water.

Hangovers are a real thing.

The Hangover is not just a movie (or three). It is a real time. A dark time. A time filled with headaches, and the desire to eat, but no-get-that-food-away-from-me-I’m-going-to-throw-up; you’ll want to watch TV but even the bright moving people will make you feel nauseated. There will be Advil, there will be water, there will be a morning in bed feeling like your body is made of stones. Dark times.

No but let’s get serious.

Real talk here: There’s a reason underage drinking is illegal. Drinking can make you sick, mess up your decision-making abilities, and possibly get you into heaps of trouble. That’s way too much to take on when you’re under 21. At the same time, I’m aware that underage drinking happens—I experienced it firsthand. And I’m also totally aware that abiding by that legal drinking age is not a thing all people do and that alcohol is, well, everywhere. All I’m trying to do here is turn back time and tell first-time-drunk me what she would have really benefited from knowing. And ultimately, all the little bullet points aside, she would have most benefited from waiting until she was older to drink—though she never would have conceded that at the time.

Allow me to close with a few things that a grown up person in your life has probably already said to you, but which are worth repeating: If you’re over 21, drink responsibly. Make sure you are clearheaded enough to take care of yourself. Keep your wits about you. Have a buddy and make sure to keep tabs on each other throughout the night. Don’t go back to a stranger’s house (it’s a bad idea for SO many reasons). Drink water. Don’t drink and drive and don’t get in a car if the person driving has been drinking (that cab is SO worth it). Most importantly, stay comfortable and trust that little voice in your head — she truly knows what’s best for you. And if you’re 15? Learn from my mistakes and maybe just stick with cranberry juice.

Related reading: 

What I wish I knew about staying in my college town after graduation

What I wish I knew before dating my best friend

[Image via Universal Pictures]