Freshers and Booze: A Bit of Fun or a Requirement?

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It’s that time again. Time to welcome the freshers in true university style. The first time away from home for many, Freshers’ week is the perfect opportunity to meet new people, have lots of fun and generally ease yourself into the crazy life of being a student. As with every other year, anxieties are appearing and websites like thestudentroom.co.uk are bombarded with questions like: “should I bring a toaster?”, “how the HELL am I going to fit everything into my car?” and the classic, “How do I enjoy Freshers’ Week without drinking?” There is undoubtedly a general connection between students and getting plastered, but what about those who do not want to drink excessively or even at all? Is there a way to enjoy the university experience and the freshers’ fortnight without stumbling across dance floors and piecing together the night before?

21% of students feel peer pressure to drink more than they normally would chose to

For as long as I can remember, the stereotype of a “student” includes baked beans, laziness and our old friend, alcohol. From American Pie to Zach and Miri make a Porno, the student characters on television and in films always seem to have some kind of alcohol fuelling their antics. The question is, is this the teenage dream: cheap booze and a fortnight of opportunities to go wild, without any parent’s judging eyes worsening your pounding headache?

It seems that becoming a student instigates a metamorphic transformation into a shot-drinking, beer-guzzling booze hound, but how much truth is there to this statement?

To be honest, since results day, my family have embraced labelling me as an alcoholic: buying me backup value vodka and joking about hangovers and messy nights, even doing Christmas jaeger bombs in my honour. The funny thing is, I’m not a particularly big drinker! My quirky family aside, there is still a clear judgment linking students and cheap booze.

The fact remains, however, that whether religious, personal or medical, the choice to drink is yours. Unfortunately, you may feel some pressure and I can tell you from personal experience that many of the drunken student rumours are more than true; I’ve witnessed a holly bush high jump, which inevitably failed.

Drink Aware found that 21% of students feel peer pressure to drink more than they normally would chose to. One student I asked said “I ended up caving in and drinking more to join in”. Nevertheless, an important thing to remember is that as much as there will be those sloppy douchebags desperate to be named the party animal, there will also be those who don’t like or want to get wasted. If you fall into the latter group there’s no need to lock yourself away in a dark room and miss out on the fun!

Clubs and pubs don’t sell exclusively alcoholic drinks (what do you think goes in a vodka and coke?) and soon enough, no one is going to care what’s in your glass so long as you’re having a laugh.

The most important thing is to keep an open mind. Your argument for not drinking has no foundations if you criticize those who do. You will be surrounded by temptation and some might not understand your choice. Just be patient. Don’t rule out hitting ‘da club’ with everyone because you don’t want to get “off your tits wasted”. Go out; let your personality shine through epic dance moves or witty banter or just general loveliness.

Equally, if ‘da club’ is not your scene, then never fear. Admittedly, sometimes the last thing you want is to spend all night in a dark room crammed full of sweaty students as the industrial sound of dubstep batters your eardrums, and that’s just the queue for the bog!

Freshers’ week tries to offer events for everyone with live music nights, quizzes, meet and greets and comedy shows. There is so much going on with societies and JCRs that finding something of interest will never be difficult.  Sometimes, a night in can surpass any Bedford Place Booze-fest, whether casually playing monopoly or chilling with a film; some of my best nights have been staying in with my flatmates. Plus, Freshers’ flu is going to tackle even the strongest of drunken gladiators, so why not have a recovery day with your new friends?

It’s understandable to worry that people might be booze hounds or that no one will understand someone who doesn’t like getting drunk, but as Nalia Missous answers in her Guardian article (found here) “…will freshers’ week render me friendless? – the answer is a definite no”.

The university has a huge, diverse community, and I guarantee that there will be people who want to hang out with you and many who agree with your choice. Most people are sensible enough to respect your medical or religious requirements, and although they may tease, they should avoid forcing you into any unwanted drinking situations. Unfortunately, they may not be as forgiving if your reason is “unsatisfactory” to them and you may have to suffer some banter. Make sure you do not get offended and stay true to what you want. If you want to drink, drink, if you really don’t, then don’t. No one is going to force feed you Sambuca in your sleep or slip Jack Daniels into your spaghetti. Soon the hype will fade and those who cannot get passed something as petty as you not drinking, are not worth your time.

The problem, in my experience, is that drinkers seem to think teetotalers are silently judging everyone else. It’s as if my refusal to drink is a condemnation of all those who do enjoy alcohol.

One studentroom.com post asks “Why does Freshers’ Week revolve around alcohol?” A valid question plaguing many students, yet the first response is bluntly honest: “Ball****”. A mixture of sweet and less sweet replies follow, but the general consensus seems to be, alcohol is only a barrier if you make it one. Placing a taboo over alcohol and those who drink it, prejudging that they will always choose a cheap shot over getting to know you is silly. Admittedly, as someone who drinks, it is difficult to comprehend how isolated a non-drinker can feel, but many of my good friends at university were met in sober situations, some of whom I have never seen drunk. Also, it works both ways, many people assume that because you don’t drink, you condemn those who do. Just reassure them that to be your friend, they don’t have to give up the bottle.

At the end of the day, university culture does revolve somewhat around alcohol consumption and yes, the clichés do have some truth to them. This is part of the university experience and you may have to tolerate it. According to the 2011 student drinking survey held by studentbeans.com, 20% of students revealed they couldn’t survive a term without drinking alcohol with 47% of non-drinking students wishing drinking alcohol wasn’t such a big part of university life. Initially it may be difficult to get involved and you may feel pressure, but the only person who can overcome that is you.  Condemning alcohol could just end with you isolating yourself: instead, be open to it, go to the odd night out, experience the other events the union or societies hold or just stay in and watch a film with some mates. If you make alcohol a big issue, it will become one: no one wants to hang out with the person who makes alcohol awkward, but everyone loves someone who gets involved.

If you’re looking for the answer “it’s all an exaggeration, no one even goes clubbing at university, let alone gets drunk all the time so there is no pressure”, then you’re looking in the wrong place. The fact is, many students like to drink and it’s a great way to socialise as alcohol generally removes people’s nervousness. However, that is not to say that you won’t have fun. You have to be willing to put yourself out there. Most people are just trying to impress each other, but soon will become comfortable enough to drink as much or as little as they choose; why not start early?


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