Jake White hated his first — and only — experience getting drunk.
It occurred at a house party when he was 21. He doesn’t remember if he had beer or mixed drinks, but he does recall taking shots. He also remembers sitting on a large couch, buzzed, doing nothing.
“I wasn’t out becoming a better person, engaging with other people,” White, 25, told DrugRehab.com. “I was happy just wasting my life away, and that’s totally not my personality.”
Three years later, he started Party.0 (pronounced party point oh), a student-led nonprofit that hosts sober house parties. These gatherings generally consist of games, outdoor tailgating, music, strobe lights and a DJ. Free food and drinks are provided by sponsors such as Papa John’s Pizza and Red Bull.
Party.0 has hosted events at colleges throughout Wisconsin, including St. Norbert College, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse and University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.
In 2017, the nonprofit will take its sober parties nationwide.
The organization will visit 48 states, beginning February 2017 in Texas and ending May 2018 in Wyoming. Party.0 will spend a week at each campus, hosting parties and teaching new student leaders how to run a successful event.
These parties feature sober versions of popular college drinking games. For example, students play beer pong using empty, weighted cups. Party.0’s version of flip cup allows participants to eat pizza rather than drink alcohol.
“Sober house parties allow students to meet new people and have fun without drugs or alcohol.”
White started the nonprofit to provide college students a sober social experience. He knows some students drink to fit in at parties. Those who didn’t, he discovered, lacked a social life.
However, White believes students can still have an enjoyable experience in social settings without alcohol. That is where Party.0 comes in.
Party.0 was a hit from the beginning. The first event, held in a small apartment in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was attended by 80 students. Party planners were anticipating just 30.
White said the attendance was a positive sign, but most students were inactive because of a lack of activities and space. In response, he developed a texting list that allows students to RSVP so party organizers can anticipate the crowd size.
Party.0 has since skyrocketed in popularity.
Today, about 150 college students attend each party, according to White. Attendees are aged 18 to 24, male and female, drinkers and nondrinkers. Students from all backgrounds participate, including individuals in recovery.
“[Those in recovery] get to enjoy a fun environment they thought they had to give up,” said White, who knows two friends in recovery. “They can come to a party, let loose, have fun and make friends.”
Greek-letter students, who battle their own drinking reputation, offer their fraternity houses during events.
“They’re excited to donate and help out,” said White.
Each school has student leaders who organize, manage and engage in these parties. The leaders are also invited to the Party.0 Conference, which aims to train new leaders and further develop returning leaders. The conference will take place in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the date is yet to be determined.
“Students from across the country want to do this, and we want to help them,” said White.
White recognizes a drinking epidemic among college students.
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found nearly 60 percent of college-aged individuals used alcohol in the past month. More than 37 percent of students binge drank in the past month.
Party.0 aims to reverse this trend. The organization hopes participants of all backgrounds will learn the benefits of sobriety. Students can carry this knowledge with them moving forward.
“It’s not enough just to tell people not to drink,” said White.
Many freshmen enter a culture saturated with drugs and alcohol. Students who engage in substance abuse may continue with the habit into adulthood. In some cases, they may develop a substance use disorder.
White views Party.0 as an attractive, safer alternative that can help prevent these long-term problems.
“To some people, being sober is a turnoff. You’re viewed as boring or arrogant,” he said. “But you don’t need drugs or alcohol to fit in, have fun or feel good.”
Party.0 will host a crowdfunding campaign in September on Indiegogo.com to cover the expenses of the national tour. For more information, visit Party.0’s Facebook page.