Alcohol Free at Freshers’?

I’m writing this at the start of my second week of university, after a pretty eventful Freshers’ Week.  Yet I’m doing so in my halls, at my desk, without a thumping headache or an outrageous hangover.  What I’m about to say might seem quite unbelievable, or indeed extraordinary, but please bear with me until the very end.

I made it through Freshers’ without touching a single drop of alcohol.  And I was not alone in this endeavour.  I met several others who don’t drink alcohol, either for social, economic, personal, medical, religious or cultural reasons.

If you’re unaware of the sort of reasons why people don’t drink, they can include:

  • Not wishing to spend money on alcohol
  • Long-term medication preventing alcohol usage
  • Certain faiths frowning upon alcohol consumption
  • Personal knowledge of people who have suffered from alcohol related diseases
  • And many, many other reasons.

Several students we encountered looked at us as though we were an alien species who clearly didn’t comprehend the goal to get as wasted as possible – apparently we’d missed the memo.

I promise you, dear reader, that we teetotal students are not alien.  We are just like you, but without drinking or being drunk to the high heavens.

We do not look down upon those who do drink.  We don’t think we are better than you.  We’re not high and mighty up on our faithful steed (although, there is always one person who will be such a character.  Unfortunately).  We accept your choices to enjoy the effects of alcohol.  Perhaps those who do drink could return the favour?  Please don’t pity us for choosing not to drink.  We had fun, because the events we attended genuinely were enjoyable.

Everybody wants to fit in with their newfound peers and the common perception is that alcohol is key to making friends.  Yet being alcohol-free throughout Fresher’s meant we too were able to fully embrace the events hosted by our university and new city, just as much as those whom had consumed many a unit alcohol, but without the effects alcohol often leaves behind to be enjoyed following morning.  We engaged in intellectually stimulating conversations and really got to know one another.  And whilst this may seem totally lame to some of you, we too were able to knock back the nerves, fears and anxieties that every student faces, only without knocking back copious amounts of booze.  We developed new friendships, like all of you, but we did so without the possibility of a pounding hangover the next morning.

We spent our evenings dancing, chatting, laughing, eating pizza, exploring our new home in the hazy sunlight and just having a great time.  And we didn’t spend every night at an overcrowded club, which typically lends itself to shouting each other’s faces just to express an opinion or comment.  We went to Murder Mystery events, K-Pop evenings, main events (UV and toga night anybody?) and many other happenings our university had on offer.  And when our flat realised everyone was shattered, we spent an evening on the sofa catching up on Great British Bake Off with hot chocolate and popcorn rather than attending another club event.

Our states of sobriety didn’t faze us at all, but confused the hell out of a couple of people we were socialising with:

  • How can you even walk into a club?”
  • “Can you dance sober?”
  • “Can you even talk to people?”

So how does an abstemious Fresher fit into this new and daunting world where almost everyone else has their blood laced with vodka and tequila shots?

There is something important to be noted about maturity regarding this whole alcohol fiasco: it is necessary to keep an open mind and be prepared to socialise with those who do drink, even if you are teetotal yourself (and vice versa).  At the end of the day, a refusal to socialise with someone on the grounds of their alcohol consumption habits and a perceived sense of superiority from either party will do more damage than good.  Another simple realisation is that anyone worth being friends with won’t care whether you’re drunk or not.  Fortunately, the people I met during Freshers’ Week were open minded and we respected each other’s’ decisions.  It didn’t taint our enjoyment of the week and the events on offer in the slightest.  In fact, having such diverse flatmates made the week far more enjoyable as we all had a different take on the previous night as we sat around our kitchen table for breakfast.

The problem, from some experiences, is that drinkers seem to think teetotallers are silently judging them.  It is almost as if our refusal to drink throughout the entirety of Freshers’ Week was a condemnation of all those who do enjoy alcohol.  I don’t drink.  You might drink.  They’re both personal choices that need to be respected.

I suppose the point of this article is to explain that there are people at university who don’t drink, mingled in amongst everyone else who does.  Neither side of the fence should consider the other with a look of haughty derision and snide comments (it is unfortunate, however, that this is how both sides are perceived to behave).  Just because we’re not following social convention about this supposed British student culture and binge drinking rite of passage during this first week, it does not mean that we are different to you.  We just don’t wish to participate in this particular social norm.  It might be a little difficult to comprehend our decision as student life and alcohol consumption are so deeply intertwined that separating the two would be as difficult as imagining Marmite without its hot and heavy love or loathe debates.

It is okay to swim against the tide to prevent drowning in Sambuca shots.  The unchartered seas of intoxication are not for everyone, and that is okay.

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