I turn 21 this week. Turn up the tunes and break out the booze — it’s going to be a par-tay!

Or not.

I have never drank alcohol in my life. And I don’t expect to drastically increase my alcohol intake now that I’m of age. I intend to stay sober to stay safe.

There are a handful of reasons why I’ve been dry up to this point. One is that I didn’t grow up around the amount of alcohol I think many other people do. My parents don’t really drink, so I was never introduced to the concept of drinking as something that people did for fun. But the older I got, the more I realized that most adults drink fairly often — not necessarily to the point of excess, but still more than I was accustomed to.

As I’ve gotten older and alcohol has become increasingly available — especially at college — I’ve still decided to stay sober. This is largely because I’ve been terrified of being slapped with the dreaded Minor in Possession charge. I plan to be a high school English teacher, and I really, really don’t want to have to explain an MIP to the skeptical principal conducting my interview.

On top of that paranoia, I’m concerned by the way in which people my age consume alcohol. College students are the demographic most commonly guilty of binge drinking. Binge drinking is generally defined as consuming more than five drinks in a single sitting for males and four for women. To me, that means this: drinking more than is either responsible or safe. And the worst part is that this form of drinking seems to be the normal way for our age bracket to drink socially.

And on top of direct health risks, binge drinkers are far more likely to drive drunk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maybe I was the only one paying attention to those anti-drug assemblies in high school or the wealth of “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” public service announcements sponsored by the Ad Council, but driving drunk — even only a little drunk — is a potential danger to everyone on the road. And I’m not willing to take that risk, however small it may be.

I have a tough time understanding the appeal of binge drinking. In fact, I don’t understand the appeal of getting drunk at all. I like being in control, and I need to be safe.

I’m a young woman living alone in a city in which the threat of sexual assault is very real. I don’t have the best coordination even when I’m stone-cold sober. So drinking — the whole point of which is to decrease inhibitions and basic motor function — just isn’t safe. If I lose control of my faculties, I won’t be able to react as quickly to potential threats. I can’t — and shouldn’t have to — depend on equally buzzed buddies to keep me safe. I should be able to take care of myself and that means I need to be in control of all my faculties at all times.

Besides — and I know this sounds incredibly cliché — I don’t need a buzz to have fun. My idea of a good party is dancing and good food and talking with my friends. I can do all of these things sober and like them and remember the fun the next day. I can also do them and then get home safely without worry about finding a ride or being too disoriented to make the trip alone. Whatever fun alcohol might add — though I don’t understand how feeling out of control is fun — isn’t worth it to me.

I don’t think my peers are stupid. College students obviously know what risks they’re taking. But there’s a fundamental difference in the way they view drinking and the way I view drinking. Other students see drinking as a social pastime and way to have fun. I look at it — as I think that I look at life — through the lens of potential consequences. To me, those consequences don’t make any fun I might have worth it. That might make me a prude, and it might make me boring. But if it means that I’m safe and responsible, I’m okay with being the drag.

Despite my wariness, I don’t advocate completely banning alcohol. The Prohibition era taught us the folly of that exercise in futility. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a drink or two in a social context, nor am I saying that I’ll never drink at all. I will probably indulge in one drink very occasionally. But for the most part, I’ll be the one at the party without a drink in her hand. So call me if you need a designated driver.

Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s 2010 editorial page editor. She can be reached at rachelvg@umich.edu.

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