Sober students share their experiences going against the college stereotype


Courtesy of Jonah Brown on Unsplash

Sober students navigate college tropes and stereotypes in diverse ways.

Eleanor Chalstrom

The infatuation with college drinking is dispersed widely and has even become an expectation among college students. From frat parties to bar crawls to tailgates, alcohol is no rare bird in campus towns. 

Drinking alcohol is not for everyone, though. AlcoholEdu, Iowa State’s educational program on drinking, reported that in the 2020-2021 school year, 54% of students who took the AlcoholEdu survey described themselves as “Abstainers.” The program described this category of students having “Consumed no alcohol in the past year.” 

The decision to abstain from alcohol consumption is diverse. For some students, it is legal, religious, medical or emotional. These students go against the perpetuated college stereotype, no matter the reason. 

Timothy Nessel is a graduate student in genetics at Iowa State and the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) president on campus. The CRC is a peer support-based group on campus that assists students who struggle with addiction or dependence in navigating their college experience and the resources available for recovery. 

As the Iowa State CRC president, Nessel observes what abstaining from alcohol can do for a college student’s social life. 

“I think part of it is an expectation that individually or in our social groups that it integrally fits into this college experience of meeting people…has to include partying and alcohol,” Nessel said. “I think that sort of stigma, especially when it’s shared by a large number of college students…can make someone feel like an outsider or separate from a larger culture or environment.”

Nessel said that friendships and other social outlets are important in establishing an alcohol-free circle. 

“We kind of provide a community and fellowship to people struggling with that in their lives,” Nessel said. “In recovery, in a broader format… that’s really helpful. It’s really helpful for people to share their experiences and to see that other people have those same experiences.” 

The CRC hosts two weekly meetings. Nessel hosts “Rootless” every Tuesday, which provides a space for students to check in with each other on recovery, socialize and support each other. On Thursday, a support group is hosted by a trained recovery counselor. To learn more about CRC, visit their website

Amber Mohmand is a junior in journalism and philosophy. For her, drinking was never really a priority. 

“I grew up Muslim, and my family doesn’t drink,” Mohmand said. “I never had alcohol around me so I kind of learned how to live without it. As I grew older and got into college, I was curious, but I still didn’t really see it as a necessity.” 

Mohmand said that abstaining from alcohol allows her to be more present with her friends and enjoy things that are important to her. 

“It’s just a thing I don’t do, like how some people don’t eat peanuts,” Mohmand said. “If you have good friends and good enough people around you, they’ll work around that.” 

Mohmand said that it is sometimes difficult to make friends as a non-drinker or establish boundaries with friends who do not fully understand her decision. 

“Sometimes people ask me to be DD ⁅designated driver⁆ which it’s hard to say ‘No,’ because of course I’m going take my friends home,” Mohmand said. “Don’t assume that your sober friend has the mental energy to do that.” 

Mohmand has found some good friends that are both drinkers and non-drinkers. She says that friends who understand her decision are the ones to keep around. 

“Once you find somebody who is willing to put in the effort to make an accommodation for you… that’s just really nice,” Mohmand said. 

Carter Norgaard is a freshman in elementary education. Being a non-drinker is pretty casual and nonchalant for Norgaard. 

“I always felt like I could have fun without drinking,” Norgaard said. “My friends and my girlfriend supported that, and nobody that I was around ever really drank. I just fell into it.” 

When he got to college, Norgaard said that he noticed that drinking and having fun seemed connected. Having friends that have the same views and interests make it easy for him to stay sober. 

“There’s almost 40,000 people on this campus and if you look long and hard enough you will find people you enjoy being around sober,” Norgaard said. 

Alex Brown is a freshman in computer engineering. Brown said that abstaining from alcohol is partly because he is underage and partly because he is not ready. 

“I figure I’ll just keep away from it until I feel like it,” Brown said. “At this point, I just don’t feel like I need it in my life.” 

He said that things like his coursework and hobbies keep him busy and occupied; alcohol might just get in the way of that. 

Iowa State offers services for students who seek recovery from alcohol addiction through the university’s student wellness department. The department also offers frequent on-campus events without alcohol through groups like the Student Union Board.