It’s Okay Not To Drink At University

Six friends leaning together whilst holding different drinks and glasses

When people reflect upon their experiences at university, they are usually greeted with memories, including the times they spent dancing the night away in some random bar, or the (not so glamourous) memory of the time their friends had to hold their hair back whilst they crouched over the toilet, violently throwing up. Such an unpleasant picture has been assembled in my mind after having heard my friends complaining about the fact they’d have to go to work after a crazy night out, still incredibly hungover and smelling like vomit and tequila.

Full disclosure, I am not trying to shame anyone who can relate to any of the above! But this has never been my university experience, and I have not wanted it to be, quite frankly. The main reason for this is that I don’t enjoy drinking, and admitting this has been something I’ve feared for a while – especially since moving to university. Despite hundreds of them, finding another student who doesn’t drink is strangely difficult. It seems to be the case that very few students don’t drink or, like I was, they simply are too anxious to admit they’d rather sit and watch Gilmore Girls with a cup of tea than spend the night crawling bars.

While I still struggle with admitting my dislike for drinking, I have slowly realised it doesn’t mean I am boring, and people are far more accepting of my choices than I thought.

For example, when I first moved to university, I was crippled with anxiety, which most people face when they, too, leave the comfort of their homes and enter a completely new place without a single familiar face in sight. However, what made my transition to university harder, was the fact I also worried about making friends (whilst being completely sober.) How would I meet people if I didn’t go out drinking with them? Would everyone think I’m boring? What if everyone only bonded through getting drunk? How could I dance all night in a club with just a few diet cokes to keep me going? These thoughts began to consume me.

After a while, I managed to make friends – without seeking Dutch courage from alcohol to do so. 

A major way I connected with people, was through talking to people on my course. Although it can be hard to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger, simple things like “are you here for English?” is actually a pretty good way to get a conversation going. I met most of my friends this way and often suggested we go for coffee to avoid having to drink. I then became more and more comfortable with these friends and was soon able to open up to them about the fact I don’t actually enjoying drinking. I was thrilled when they comforted me and told me they still wanted to hang out with me and that my decision was completely understandable – even if, for them, drinking alcohol was still like discovering gold treasure.

Although I am lucky to have found friends who accept me for who I am, there is an undeniable drinking culture at university, and this can be incredibly overwhelming for students like me. Whilst the bars on campus and society socials are becoming more accommodating of sober students, it doesn’t help that most of the fresher’s events (the ones which students actually attend) involve clubbing and heavy drinking. This can lead students to believe they must disguise themselves and pretend to enjoy drinking when they’d much rather be curled up in bed by nine o’clock with a hot chocolate and a packet of biscuits.

Yes, I am aware that for many, that last sentence may seem like a very dull thing to say. But I think that’s largely because the university has been sold to us as the place to unleash our experimental impulses so that once we graduate, we can get ‘proper’ jobs and become ‘real’ adults. Before that, though, we are told to make the most of being a student. Although I agree we should all value the short time we have at university, I think there is much more to embracing this experience than merely spending all day drinking and partying.

I love meeting friends for coffee and shopping in the city centre (for much-needed retail therapy,) going for fancy dinners and doing activities like watching a movie or even – again, this will probably make me sound like an old lady, doing a food shop! All these things are part and parcel of my university experience. They have enabled me to spend quality time with friends and have conversations with them without the need to shout into each other’s ears or drink litres of alcohol first.

If you enjoy drinking, that’s perfectly okay, but, if like me, you’d rather enjoy a soft drink (and avoid the horrific hangovers,) that’s perfectly okay too! You can do plenty of other fun things to make the most of your time at university. No one should be judged for their choices, whether that includes drinking till the sun rises or not consuming a single sip of alcohol.

Words by Nadia Sayed

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