The 7 Stages Of Drinking In Your Early 20s


Although everyone doesn’t drink (see: Jules), alcohol is undoubtedly a huge component of the social lives of early 20-somethings. Here is a progression of sorts; one that you probably won’t follow exactly, but might bear resemblance to your liver-harming experience between the ages of 20-24:

1. Breaking Bad Season 3

Breaking Bad Season 3 is at once incredibly bingeable, and the fact that there are two seasons to go means there’s no end in sight. This is what drinking at age 20 feels like; by this time you’ve found what you like can tolerate, and have probably moved past the sloppy phase that tends to dominate late high school and early college.

You’re cocky, you’re agressive, you feel like you’re peaking, and you’re too far away from the “real world” to be held in check. Minimal responsibilities, maximum beer pong braggarting.

Fever dream phase. Easy to make fun of 3 years later phase.

2. 21st Birthday Season

Celebrating your first ever sip of alcohol in the history of your existence is a wonderful time; a time highly contingent on when your birthday falls.

I was a bit on the later side of my year, so by the time I entered a bar for the first time ever I noticed there were two camps — the slightly older crowd, already very tired of 21st birthday celebrations, and the new crowd; incredibly amped at the novel idea of watching someone else poison themselves with shots they didn’t pay for.

21st birthday season is like any other year — you get some real winners, and you get some real duds. Just a lot more vomiting.

3. R.E.M. Gradaution Haze

The few months before college graduation is a time that would work very well for a big-time coming of age movie; there’s not much to do other than sit on a porch, contemplate the #BigScaryFuture, and despondently watch your friends play cornhole. In this situation, they have their lives together and you don’t because you’re mad at your dad for pushing you too hard.

During this super sacred time, socializing consists of going to school-wide events and having the same conversations with the same people over and over again. Some are “so excited for their job!”, while others “aren’t gonna stress about it, you know?” The events tend to blend together, as do the protests from your rapidly deteriorating body.


*I meant to organically implement the R.E.M. song “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and turn it into a super deep metaphor about what life is like the few weeks before you graduate. You get it. 

4. The Downshift/New People To Click On Listicles Phase

This is the phase that happens at the same time you aren’t in college anymore, and are forced to read endless lists about things you can’t do after college. These lists will include (but won’t be limited to): having afternoons, dressing exclusively in sweatpants, and wearing SAE Crawfish boil ’03 shirts anywhere other than the gym.

Additionally, this is the phase where you stop binge drinking most nights of the week and only binge drink 1-2 nights of the week. You slowly realize that “real life” is tiring, and start to actually look forward to staying in. You figured this wouldn’t happen for another five years, but then again you have no say over the matter. You are someone I made up to make this article sound more relatable.

5. The Nate Silver Phase

Nate Silver is a guy who has made a solid living off making calculations and being adored by media types who hope to hop on his bandwagon of actually substantial journalism. The Nate Silver phase is when you and your friend eat brunch at 3pm on a Sunday, wholly pissed that you’re both hungover and have destroyed your entire day, and finally realize that the cost, the likelihood of finding a romantic interest, and time commitment that heavy drinking requires renders it an increasingly poor investment.

This marks a very substantial turn in your line of social thought — it means that while you’re still nothing more than a vehicle for this list, you’re certainly growing up.

6. Barry Sanders Press Conference

Barry Sanders retired at the age of 31, which at the time was highly unprecedented and quite controversial. At the time of his retirement, the legendary running back had four years left on his six year, $36 million dollar contract.

Similarly, your 23 year-old self might discuss how he/she is “never drinking again” — this time a little bit more seriously, actively replacing intense pregames with nicer dinners, and dance floor raging with a glass or two at the wine bar. Of course you’re still lying, but you’re definitely taking a serious step towards hanging it up.

7. Game Of Thrones Season Finale (Looking Ahead)

The season finales of HBO’s Game Of Thrones are rather different than any other on television. Given that the crazy stuff always goes down during the penultimate episode* (phrase people use on the internet and then get mad about because that’s how we spend our time now), the finales are usually dedicated to coming down from the insane high, while building the foundation for what to expect in the next season.

This is what alcohol consumption seems to feel like around age 24 — you know the 20 year-old habits are as forgotten as Charlie Sheen being victorious, you’ve gone through the weird transitions, and you’re finally getting a sense of what the future holds; casual encounters accentuated by your one friend’s love of craft beer, the occasional binge, and an overall responsible more responsible approach towards alcohol.

I imagine this all sounds nice in theory — a theory that crashes and burns upon receiving the very first email for Dave’s bachelor party.