Part I: Figuring Out What You Like
This may sound incredibly obvious, but you will have a significantly more enjoyable experience drinking if you actually enjoy the substance that you’re drinking — so figuring out your personal preferences now will make the next four years (as well as the rest of your drinking life) infinitely better. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy.
If and when you go to bars, ask questions! The bartenders have heard everything already before, and it’s literally their job to help you find something you’ll like. If you’re into beer, go on a tour at Pyramid Brewery; the people who run them are super-knowledgeable and can help explain all the different varieties and flavors of beer to better help you get a handle on whether you’re, say, a pilsner person or an IPA person. If you’re into whiskeys, go to Acme Bar in West Berkeley and tell the bartender you’re interested in learning more — he or she will be more than happy to tell you anything and everything you need to know.
Don’t be afraid to try new things, and if you find something — a liquor, a flavor, a cocktail — you like, identify it, stick with it, and experiment with various permutations of it. Know that, unfortunately, alcohol is one of those areas of life where price and quality tend to correlate pretty closely — but that whatever nominal cost difference there is between plastic-bottle booze and the next step up is probably worth how much more you’ll enjoy it, both as you’re drinking and the day after. Realize that you don’t necessarily need to have whatever swill your friends are drinking. Remember that, generally speaking, the lighter in color wine, beer, or liquor is, the subtler the flavor will be, and use that as a basic guide when all else fails. Never drink anything neon.
Part II: Fake IDs
Honest advice: Don’t use ’em. They’re expensive, not hugely accessible in Berkeley, and using them at a bar, club, or liquor store can quite easily get you, the employees, and the establishment itself in some pretty major trouble. The fact is, the stress of worrying — about what happens if your ID is rejected, if some but not all of your party gets in, if the bouncer happens to be from whatever random town in Michigan your fake claims you live in — is almost never worth the supposed fun of whatever’s happening on the other side of the door. Bars will be there when you turn 21, and Berkeley’s campus culture is such that there are plenty of houses, co-ops, and frats that’ll gladly serve you booze underage, for better or for worse. Also, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re actually 26.
Part III: Safety
Drinking to wasteyfaced excess is, obviously, not a great idea, but hey, shit happens, and college is pretty much the only chance you’ll get. That said, be smart about it, whether you’re at a party or at a bar. That means never leaving your drink unattended; by absolutely no means operating a vehicle (including a bike!) when drunk; realizing your body can take up to an hour to metabolize alcohol and pacing yourself accordingly; alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks if possible; keeping track of your friends; and always, always having a big glass of water and an Advil before bed. If someone is dry-heaving, unresponsive, or otherwise approaching hey-this-isn’t-fun-anymore levels of drunkenness, don’t wait for him to get better, don’t put him in a cold shower, don’t let him keep sleeping (especially not on his back or front, lest he, ah, choke on his own vomit) — call 911, no matter what. And bear in mind that at least half of (reported) sexual assaults happen when one or more parties has been drinking — not to scare you away from boozing altogether, not to imply that you’re in any way to blame for drinking if, god forbid, something does happen, but just so that you’re mindful of your surroundings, alcohol’s effect on your ability to give consent (or not) and mean it, and your overall sense of safety and agency in whatever situation you’re in. And finally, for the love of god, stay away from open windows on high-up floors.
Part IV: Staying Sober
It may not always feel like it, but not everyone around you is wasted all the time, and college is not in fact just one big foam party with occasional classes thrown in for variety. “The first thing we want everyone to know is not everyone drinks,” said Cathy Kodama, director of Cal’s health promotion office, noting that a (self-reported) majority of Berkeley undergrads drink at either low levels or not at all. All of which is to say: it’s totally 100 percent normal and okay to not be into drinking, whether it’s because you’re in recovery, have religious customs against it, or are just not down to act like a blithering dumbass (note: for those of you who are down to act like blithering dumbass, carry on!). There’s plenty of fun stuff to do in Berkeley sober (see here), you don’t need to explain yourself, and people who don’t get it are dicks (by that same token, don’t be a jerk to people who do drink; point is, it’s a personal choice). Also, pro tip: The only person who can tell the difference between a rum and coke and a regular coke is the one drinking it.
Part V: Hangovers
Yes, they are the absolute worst! No, there’s no cure (other than time). Drink water, take a shower, eat some pho if you’re capable of leaving the house (some toast if you’re not), and then go back to bed if at all possible.
Part VI: Your Relationship with Alcohol
Hey, some people just aren’t meant to be big drinkers — and college is exactly the time to figure out if you’re one of those people. If you find yourself not particularly enjoying it, or, on the other end of the spectrum, begin to suspect that alcohol is infringing on your relationships, your schoolwork, or your general ability to function like an adult human being, you can always stop. In the latter case, the Tang Center can get you hooked up with all kinds of free and very cheap one-on-one and group counseling options . In the former case, see Part IV, above, and/or our guide to smoking weed here.