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How to have fun without the pressure to drink

If you're under 21 or sober, look into these activities to have a great time in Bellingham

Photos highlighting different activities in Bellingham, Wash. for people under 21 or sober. Look for these alternatives during the winter months. // Photos by Logan Schreiber

Socializing in college can be tough – the pressure to go out to bars can sometimes leave those who do not or legally cannot drink alcohol feeling isolated from their friends.

This feeling can worsen during the winter months when less sunlight shines and alcohol use tends to rise. Students head out to the bars, leaving their underage and sober friends behind. 

“For many people, it’s hard to even imagine a social life that doesn’t include alcohol,” said Bailey Rahn, a licensed mental health counselor associate, via email. She said many of her patients share the feeling of isolation due to socialized drinking.

According to Gateway Foundation, a service based on providing medicine for addictions, socialized drinking is defined as using alcohol to relax, celebrate, or just trying to fit in. 

Rahn sees patients at Tidepools Counseling, an online psychotherapy treatment service specializing in mental health and substance abuse addictions. 

“Even if you do go out with friends, there’s an isolated feeling that comes with being the person who isn’t drinking,” Rahn said. “Socializing is an essential human need, and when alcohol is an inseparable part of that, no wonder it’s such a tough pattern to break.”

One of the first steps to normalizing people making their own choices about alcohol is not putting any pressure on them to drink or questioning why they are not drinking, Rahn said. 

“Early adulthood is such a significant time of exploration and a lot of people voluntarily show up [to counseling] to learn more about their own substance use, constructing or deconstructing their relationship to [altered] states of mind,” Rahn said. “In either case, it’s encouraging to see people wanting to create intentional, self-aware, and honest relationships to things like drinking and smoking.”

Not only are students exposed to college drinking culture, but there are 14 breweries and at least 30 bars in Bellingham. Some Western students feel passionately about this issue, feeling that it can be difficult to try to avoid alcohol as a student in Bellingham. 

This was the case for Robert Deans, a fourth-year psychology student who said he followed along with drinking for companionship. 

“Unfortunately, Bellingham has little to do but bars and breweries when it comes to some of the less physically involved ways to socialize. Even our more popular [arcades] are bars,” Deans said in an email. “It's disheartening.”

Deans is not alone in feeling that most outings and social opportunities revolve around the consumption of alcohol. The problem is getting the word out about alternatives.

Becky Mandelbaum, the communications manager for Visit Bellingham, said that Bellingham has a plethora of spaces, both outdoors and indoors, where people can socialize. 

"I think one of the best things about Bellingham is that we have so many green spaces,” she said. “You can go to a park and have a picnic with people." 

There are parks all around the city for people to enjoy each other’s company, such as Boulevard, Cornwall, Fairhaven, and Zuanich. On top of that, there are a variety of events put on by the City of Bellingham that bring people together. 

While outdoor venues are great for fresh air and seeing nature, the cold and rainy months of the year can make it hard to spend time outdoors. 

This is where places like Volli Entertainment come in, for choices of various activities. 

“We try to have a lot of other alternatives,” said Ryland MacDonald, one of Volli’s managers. “[This is] a space where people can come to hang out, do a bunch of fun activities, especially because it’s Washington – you know how the weather is here. We’re really good all year around for friends and families.”

Volli provides one hour of activities for $8 per person. A new mini golf course, pickleball, darts, and cornhole are available.

Another option is Bellingham Axe, which is located downtown and is another option for people to turn to when they do not want to drink. 

“There’s no culture of drinking [at Bellingham Axe],” said the owner, Mo Tsimouris. “I think there’s generally a lack of things to do in Bellingham once the weather turns. I like providing that activity.” 

As a non-drinker himself, Tsimouris thinks substance-free places are not talked about enough. He wants people to be able to enjoy outings without feeling the pressure to drink. 

“[In the same way] we promote drinking places, we should promote non-drinking places,” Tsimouris said. 

Logan Schreiber

Logan Schreiber (he/him) is a fourth-year student going into the PR Journalism program. He enjoys writing and music, hoping to do both for his career. You can reach him at

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