Party Without Regrets

About 20 million college students descended on to college campuses this fall and faced a myriad of challenges related to alcohol and other drug problems.

I’m reminded of John Belushi’s quintessential rally cry to get a college party going in the iconic movie Animal House: “this could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst.” He was definitely onto something!

Foam parties, keggers, hazing, tables of beer pong replete with red Solo cups full of frothy beer, and sororities & fraternities are  as much a right of passage on college campuses as learning how to drive. Thankfully, this rite of passage does not always lead one to a substance abuse disorder, however, it surely can be the start of misuse and other consequences.

College students encounter a great deal of pressure to “fit in” with the crowd and join the party. Knowing that marijuana, pharm parties, lean (i.e. “purple drank”) and other temptations  line the counter, it’s imperative that students be prepared when they find themselves in the mix of a late night soiree. In fact, college years beg the question:

Is it possible to party without regrets?

Though this line is a playful nod to throngs of college party-goers, it has a deeper meaning that empowers students, friends, families and loved ones to make smart and healthy decisions. Nobody wants to wake up the morning after a party – blankets off – with only regrets as covers.

To address this issue, colleges and universities have developed comprehensive campus-wide alcohol and other drug prevention programs to educate students about life on campus, residence hall & apartment living, diversity, and yes, the plethora of ways one can party.

About three decades ago, long before Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram filled our screens and minds, the motto “party without regrets” was birthed at San Diego State University. As former faculty in the School of Social Work, US Higher Education Associate for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, grant specialist and program director at SDSU, my team and I were one of the first in the nation to develop a program called Student to Student (STS),an alcohol and  other drug awareness program dedicated to promoting the social, academic and personal well-being of SDSU students. Through peer educators encouraging campus involvement, STS employed leadership, community education, adventure-based activities (high and low ropes courses), and health promotion to actively work toward making SDSU (and other campuses with similar programs) a safe and prosperous community. This program became the centerpiece of partying without regrets.

This program was revolutionary – implementing preventative measures and promoting a “safe party” culture – it was met with some harsh truths about the dangers of college partying. Dr. John Donovan Clapp, who at that time was my graduate assistant, was instrumental in developing this program . Today, Dr. Clapp is the Executive Vice Dean and Professor at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at USC. He  indicates “the ‘safe partying’ strategy is difficult [because] when people start drinking, one’s blood alcohol content, the people they are with, and where they are drinking can collude to short-circuit their initial motivations… something that seems pretty simple turns out to be wickedly complex.”

Despite these challenges, STS became a successful model for implementing safety measures at parties for students on campuses nationwide. One of the original Presidents of STS Gina Quinones-Beck, a sorority president, remembers: “When I was in school I had several friends who were killed or seriously injured in drunk driving crashes. [At the time] SDSU was listed as one of the top party schools in the nation. I had a neighbor who had just started at SDSU and she was left tied down to a gurney because she was hallucinating on drugs. She never returned to school. When I heard about STS I felt it was a place where I could learn how to help people who may have been struggling with alcohol or other drugs.”

If you and your friends choose to attend college parties where alcohol is present, here are some tips the STS program developed to keep you safe:

  • Go with a group of trustworthy friends. There’s strength in numbers when drugs and alcohol are present at college parties. The group will help keep an eye on everyone so no one goes missing and these positive people will keep your best interests in mind.
  • Have a key check. This makes it so no one will leave with a vehicle.
  • Assign a designated driver. This person must be reliable to not engage in drinking or other drugs.
  • Have a case of water by the door as a main drink option. Students often forget to drink water between alcoholic drinks, however, if you place bottled water out in the open on counter tops, near exits and in refrigerators and coolers, it’s easier to grab a water and go.
  • Have a place to store car keys in case someone is too intoxicated to drive
  • Have appropriate foods for guests to eat.
  • Cut off drinking or serving alcohol at a designated time. The same way bars have a “last call,” college parties must stop serving at a certain time.
  • Offer sleeping blankets. In some cases, it’s better to let the person sleep it off.
  • Keep upstairs bedrooms locked to avoid sexual misconduct.
  • Keep an eye on your drink. Make sure you watch your drink, never set it down and don’t let anything be put into it. Rohypnol, commonly referred to as “roofie” or the “date rape” drug, is a central nervous depressant that can cause amnesia, confusion and impaired judgement. If you lose track of your drink – don’t risk it – get a new one or refrain from drinking.
  • Sober sisters. This is the original buddy system in which women in sororities are paired with a sister to look out for each other’s best interests at parties and social gatherings. Sober sisters to commit to being the designated driver and/or walking partner who sees that you make it back to your dormitory or apartment safe. This safety tip has evolved with the times to now include programs whereby students can contact a peer-led student help line requesting a “buddy” or “safe escort” to walk them home safely after parties.
  • Responsible beverage service and Training for Intervention Procedures .Responsible beverage service is a training program that gives owners, managers and staff of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol knowledge and skills to help serve alcohol responsibly. This includes identifying intoxicated patrons and refusing to serve them as well as intervening to prevent intoxicated patrons from driving. This service is most effective when used at bars and restaurants surrounding college campuses and universities. TIPS is one such training program designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving by enhancing the fundamental “people skills” of servers, sellers and consumers of alcohol, according to the TIPS certification website.
  • For tailgating, be sure to follow the university’s rules and guidelines. Also, “Recovery First Tailgaters”, is a group of people who gather together to celebrate fun university or college campus events free of alcohol and other drugs. Visit to find out more about this free program.
  • Use technology as a tool. With mobile devices on the hip of every student, Dr. Clapp says “my research group has been trying to use technology to help people avoid over-shooting what they wanted to do… we are a year or so away from having an app that does that.” In the meantime, ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft make it easier for college students to get home safe.

Programs like Student to Student now dot the landscape of college campuses. Together, across our nation these programs serve to enrich the student experience and campus community, empower students to make wise decisions, equip students with the tools to thrive in a healthy and safe environment, and to party without regrets.

Written by Louise A. Stanger Ed.D, LCSW, CDWF, CIP and Roger Porter


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