Reading through Lawrence Stains’ feature on young people and alcohol (Wasted, Men’s Health, March 2013) had me thinking about my son and his friends.

The numbers are daunting. I won’t run through them here—read the story if you want them. But it does clearly spell out the fact that the distance between getting fucked up and dying is distressingly thin. Medical professionals even have a term for a blood alcohol content over .35—”the death zone.” You won’t necessarily die‚ but you won’t necessarily wake up in the morning, either.

The really compelling stuff to me was Stains’ insight into why young people today do this: intimacy. I don’t quite buy the explanation that these young people are socially awkward due to Facebook and Twitter, but I do think he’s dead-on in this excerpt:

Once the partiers are hammered, the love begins to surge through the little community. Guys tease each other, slap each other, hug each other. Girls are a little tearful. (“I love you guys so much!”) As Vander Ven [a researcher] observed time and time again in his field notes, students drink “because of the love they get. . . . Feeling loved by peers is clearly part of the emotional payoff.” Everyone is carefree. Everyone is laughing. Everything is funny. Status matters less: “It almost levels the playing field when people gather,” one student told him, “’cause everyone’s just trying to have a good time.”

This rings really true to me. I think the lubrication allows them to say things and surface things they don’t think they can otherwise.

Let me be clear: I don’t think young people today are irretrievably broken. I know I drank to excess in college. I also know that the best years of my life came after I stopped doing all that and dialed into the experience that was my life and discerned the outlines of purpose in the here and now. And while I understand that I can’t rush or force my children to that realization, I also think that one of my roles is as a guide and as someone who can point to experiences and say, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do a lot less of that. It got better when I stopped THAT.”

Guys, that’s what I’m telling you.

My prayer is that these young adults, with so much privilege and so much potential, realize that alcohol is not the thing that gives their relationships authenticity. If anything, it’s the thing that leads to what Stains calls the “shit show,” where everything goes bad and friendships are bruised and, too often, broken. It’s what makes authenticity—an awareness of exactly who I am and what I’m experiencing, so difficult—because I think that drinking a lot creates exactly the environment in which I cannot hear who I am and what I’m experiencing.

Thanks to Lawrence Stains for writing the piece and to my colleagues at Men’s Health for publishing it.

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