Last summer I made the bold decision to completely ditch alcohol and go teetotal. This decision was largely motivated by mental health; I’d always had a rather complicated relationship with drinking, often opting to binge-drink my way through whatever personal issue I was having. Or, more accurately, attempting to avoid them.
Instead of facing my problems in a healthy way, it always seemed preferable to opt for the thing which would guarantee me a day being bedridden, feeling worse for wear the following morning. Being so inebriated I wouldn’t be able to recall any details from the night before with any clarity or certainty – other than a faint memory of me falling over on multiple occasions – on reflection, it wasn’t a particularly good coping mechanism. Statistics reveal that more than a quarter of the UK’s young people have similarly adopted teetotalism, with this trend, perhaps surprisingly, falling in older people. With more young people actively choosing to abstain from alcohol consumption, pioneering the rising trend of teetotalism, how are such students expected to fair against the age-old tradition of partying their way through Freshers Week?
To be honest, I had gradually started to lose interest in nights out before I arrived at university – although, that’s probably due to the fact that the Isle of Wight, my home, had just one “club”, Yates. Yates has since been closed down – thank god – but we have since been bestowed with the gift of our very own Fever and Boutique. Nights out had gone from my go-to activity of choice for weekends, to being the thing I actively avoided. Maybe it was something about the fact that you were likely to bump into practically every member of your primary school year three class, or that the atmosphere of the place was so suffocating that my anxiety would start rising, but I quickly began to fear nights out drinking. I would be so uncomfortable in a crowded club; fighting my way through a sea of people “dancing” – yes, I use that term rather generously and very loosely – whilst defending my drink in hand just wasn’t my idea of fun anymore.
There’s this prominent misconception that shamefully admitting to not being a drinker comes with a sacrifice, that you miss out on a crucial part of student life and student culture. The notion of consecutively clubbing your way through Freshers Week is so deeply ingrained in the collectively held student consciousness. Freshers Week is a time when you are thrust into an environment so alien but so exciting, and it is at this time that you find yourself meeting a whole bunch of new people, forming friendships that will last a lifetime. You would think it boils down to one central dilemma: the choice of compromising your morals, or the choice of being left out, missing out on all the shenanigans and tales of booze and banter – some of which go on to form a person’s most successful personal anecdotes. However, this isn’t necessarily the reality of the situation.
From my own experience at least, students are incredibly understanding about another person’s choice to not drink, and that the whole missing out on a part of student life just isn’t true. After all, a young person may not engage in drinking for a whole host of reasons: medication, health and income concerns, or just generally having no interest in doing so. In fact, data now shows that almost half of Brits surveyed reported that they now shun regular drinking. Furthermore, in recent years it has been found that young people across the country have been at the forefront of leading the movement known as “mindful drinking”, with more and more young adults, in what has been coined ‘Generation Sensible’, choosing to participate in initiatives and campaigns such as Dry January.
For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a night out being sober – the only issue you may run into at Southampton is that without being drunk, your senses will be extremely heightened to the sticky floors and questionable cleanliness of the bathrooms in Jesters. And then, of course, the other issue that arises is that you’re automatically the designated “responsible one” of the group. This isn’t always a bad thing, though, because you get to remember all the embarrassing details of the night before, and taunt your friends with them for the next three years. I have also learned from the last two years that playing Cards Against Humanity sober, with your mates being tipsy, is a hell of a lot of fun.
Alcohol isn’t the be all and end all, and that’s something I think is very important to stress to students coming to university. It certainly isn’t worth worrying whether people will immediately deem you as the “boring” flatmate, or consider you any less of a person for admitting to being teetotal. Even the flatmates I considered to be the more hardcore drinkers needed a night off the booze every now again. The most important thing is that you enjoy your Freshers Week experience here at Southampton, and go out and celebrate in the way you feel most comfortable. Enjoy!