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Worried About Alcohol and Prom?
Here are 6 things you can do to take the pressure off.
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Prom season is here and with it comes some tough decisions -- what to wear, who to ask, and where to go once the festivities are over. It seems like every TV show and movie we watched growing up turned prom into a huge milestone that marks the beginning of a new era. Prom is a night to let loose and have fun with your closest friends, but students can often feel pressured to do whatever it takes to make the experience as memorable as possible.

“There’s a lot of anxiety when you have a inner conflict between what you think others expect...and what you want to do,” says Charlanne Zepf, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in White Plains, New York. “It’s not uncommon for students to feel anxiety and stress about what’s going down on prom night, especially if they’re considering trying alcohol for the first time.” Here are six things you can do to relieve anxiety around alcohol, whether or not you and your friends plan on drinking.

1. Don’t believe the hype.

We’ve all seen those cheesy “just say no” after-school specials, but it can be hard to make that choice in the moment when it feels like all eyes are on you. Don’t worry about feeling like an outsider for not drinking -- you definitely won’t be the only one.

Even though it might seem like everyone’s doing it, the overall rate of underage drinking has actually been on a steady decline over the last few decades. According to research from Edgar Snyder, “More than 90% of teens believe their fellow classmates will likely drink and drive on prom night,” but far fewer than that actually will.

2. Know the facts.

Not to sound like a narc (or state the obvious), but let’s all remind ourselves: underage drinking is illegal and puts you in a position to get in trouble with the law and, obviously, your school. If you or friends are going to drink though, remember that it can alter your judgement, blur your memory, upset your stomach, give you a wicked hangover, and even increase your risk for getting into fights.

Also, binge drinking can lead to blacking out, especially if you’re drinking hard liquor. “It takes about one hour for one drink to process through our body. If someone's doing multiple shots in 20 minutes, that alcohol is going to saturate the system,” Charlanne notes. “Sometimes they don't even make it to the prom or they make a scene when they get to the prom and get in trouble with the school.” Make prom a night to remember, not one you’d love to forget.

3. Sound boundaries beforehand.

Feeling anxious about going to a party where there might be alcohol? Charlanne recommends talking it out with some supportive friends, or maybe even with a trusted adult. If you don’t want to drink or don’t want to be in a place where there’s alcohol, let your friends know that before prom night. That way you’ll set expectations of what you are and aren’t comfortable with before prom night pressures or excitement have the chance to impact your decisions.

4. Redefine BYOB.

Drinking definitely isn’t the only way to celebrate after prom, and if you know it’s not for you, there’s no reason to feel embarrassed. You can still be social, be yourself, and have a great time with your friends, even if you don’t feel comfortable drinking. Pull a Peter Kavinsky from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and bring your own (non-alcoholic) beverage to sneak into a Solo cup. Whether you go for kombucha or Sprite, this is a super easy party hack to keep all those “Why aren’t you drinking?” questions to a minimum. The best part? No one will even know you aren’t sipping on jungle juice.

Oh, and regardless of what you’re sipping, don’t accept drinks from someone unless you watched them pour or make it. Sharing drinks -- or even vape pens -- is something to avoid also, since you don’t really know what’s in them. Lastly, keep an eye on your drink -- never leave it unattended, even if you’re just away for a minute.

5. Buddy up.

If drinking is a possibility on prom night -- even if you're not the one partaking -- make a game plan with your friends ahead of time and keep an eye out for each other during the dance and after-party. Start a group message on your phone to check in on each other in case you get separated. You could even decide on a code word or signal for if you start to feel worried or uncomfortable throughout the night.

Prom after-parties can be overwhelming, especially if alcohol becomes part of the equation. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation at any point on prom night, Charlanne suggests taking a step back to center yourself. “Go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face,” she says. “Take some deep breaths, then go find some friends and ask for help.”

6. Plan a safe ride home.

Prom season is one of the most dangerous times of year for car accidents, with 1/3 of teen alcohol-related accidents reported between April and June. Drugs factor in too. Ever heard someone say that driving while high actually makes them safer on the road? The truth is, weed and other drugs can slow your reaction time, mess with your focus, and compromise other skills you need for good driving.

Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft (if available in your area) are reliable ways to make sure your whole crew gets home safely. Don’t feel like splitting the fare? Volunteer to be designated driver if you plan on staying sober! (Then consider making your friends to repay in rides for the whole summer. Just a thought.)

Big thanks to Judy Mezey, Director of Community Based Programs at Student Assistance Services in New York for reviewing this guide.

Stressed about other prom stuff? Check out our guides on body image/confidence, finances, sex, and finding a date. Or use our Prom Anxiety Textline by texting PROM to 38383.

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