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Uni Without Drinking: Impossible?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Most of us think of university life as a whirlwind of parties, coming back home in the early mornings and—at the end of the academic year– endless hours in the library. It all forms part of the experience! We hear parents and relatives talking of university as being the best time of their lives. Those best moments are often filled with alcohol. Freshers’ week, nights out, bar crawls, drinking games, drunk 9ams – this is what 50% of university is made up of. But what about those who do not drink? How do they fit into this “uni experience”?

The first weeks of university are when you are supposed to make friends. The binding force is alcohol. For those who do not drink, the experience is often difficult. Social events organised by clubs and societies mostly include drinking-related activities: bar crawls, pub quizzes, fancy balls – all with alcohol in abundance. The drinking culture is forced on everyone, leaving those who do not drink with little choice but to take a back seat or miss out entirely. How are these students expected to integrate if they cannot come to these events or are uncomfortable if they do?

Neeraj, a non-drinker, agrees that alcohol has a highly dominant presence at university, especially in first year. Now that he is in his second year, he says that people seem to go out on fewer occasions and drink less. They also understand him better. Unfortunately, there are many who simply refuse to understand the choice of a non-drinker. Eshna thinks that some people think of her as being a boring person; Shameelah finds that she is often just assumed to be highly religious. Many non-drinkers may feel left out: Rob* felt in his first year at university that he was disappointing his flatmates. This led him to stop going to pre-drinks for a year, just so that he did not have to answer questions about his lifestyle choice. Being very outgoing and friendly, Rob admits that during the day he had a lot of friends but as the night drew in, he was less involved. “You are just left out of the conversation,” says Shameelah. She spent two years in France where the drinking culture is also very much present. When her friends were talking about the different types of wine, she just could not make any contribution. Eshna recognises that non-drinkers are a minority and she understands that this is the reason why their needs are not catered for as much. These students’ experiences serve to illustrate how hard it can be to be a non-drinker in a culture that glorifies alcohol.

However, the picture is not altogether gloomy. All of the non-drinkers I talked to say they have learnt how to make the best of university life. Let’s be honest: it can often be funnier to be the sober one who remembers what happened on a night out and can relate the story to others the next day. Non-drinkers are not boring, lonely people. They still enjoy going out with friends and partaking in many of the same activities; they have just made a different choice when it comes to alcohol. It’s a difficult choice to make in a world where peer pressure is so strong, and they shouldn’t be criticised for it. After all, these non-drinkers do not (for the most part) turn around and pressure those who do drink to stop.

Yes, non-drinkers can enjoy their time at university. There are lots of non-drinkers about and it is easier than ever before to meet up with like-minded people. The key is to surround yourself with people who respect you and around whom you are comfortable. Although at the start it can be hard, you eventually find your true friends. The ones with whom you can have a night out without having to be the sober one who takes care of everyone! You can participate in drinking games and have shots of non-alcoholic drinks without it being weird. There are so many events and fun activities which do not require you to drink or where alternatives are provided. Neeraj goes to volunteering events, Eshna just picks non-alcoholic drinks. We have to acknowledge that the drinking culture is very much present in modern life, but we decide the extent to which we want to be part of it. Sticking to your principles and knowing your personal reasons for a decision are so important, especially when going through such a huge change as starting university. Whether it is socially acceptable to not drink at university is therefore irrelevant. Make a choice and surround yourself with people who respect that choice. Being a non-drinker is not a handicap, and those who identify as non-drinkers should stop having to apologise for being one.

* Not his real name

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3

Estelle is a second year law student who comes from the tropical shores of Mauritius. She has been writing poems, magazine articles and an award-winning short story back home. Her passion is dancing. She participates in ballroom dancing competitions or just any event including dancing. Her other interests include fashion, music and badminton.