This article is addressed almost directly to Katie Gupwell, who delivered a great piece describing the life of a non-drinker at Loughborough. She’s eloquent, insightful, and hits so many of the points which need to be addressed in explaining why a person doesn’t need to drink at university.
I respect her for that, but I must take issue with an assumption she makes. Her article heavily implies that you can divide the student body into two groups, one significantly larger than the other: drinkers and non-drinkers. It seems plausible but, for me, there’s a third category: drinkers who aspire to be non-drinkers. I am in that third category.
During my first year, I loved going out and getting hammered. My mates and I had an obsessive one-upmanship during Freshers to see who could get the most drunk and lose the most dignity in one night. I often won, and I guess I was proud of that. The number of photos I’ve had to hide surreptitiously from my Facebook timeline suggests I probably shouldn’t have been.
But, as my third year slowly burns away, I can’t escape the thought that it’s all so superficial, so empty. Every couple of days, I’ll meet up with some friends, we’ll get drunk at pre-drinks, then we’ll head out. When I go out, my money melts away but what do I get in return for this expenditure? A sore head, several hours of missing memories, a vague sense of shame, a lingering memory of something bad happening, and a resounding disdain for the other drunk students I saw bumbling around the night before.
From the instant the Union Freshers’ welcome pack slips through your letterbox, we’re being sold discounts on alcohol, cheap entry to the Union, and shown photos of people in the Union drunk. I remember skipping through the brightly coloured booklet in my little grey hometown, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
I don’t remember a great deal of Freshers, which, by most students’ standards, must have meant it was good. However, I was always aware of an uncomfortable fact: this is not me, this is the alcohol. Compared to Katie, I’m a weak person. I have to drink when I’m out. I have to drink because everyone else drinks. I can’t stand being around drunk people when I’m sober; going to nightclubs without being under the influence is, for me, the most boring thing a person can do with a free night. The more I went out, the more I gradually realised that student socialising revolves around little more than drinking poison until we do things we wouldn’t normally do, and the thought depresses me.
I don’t want to drink, because it makes me someone I’m not, and I don’t want to be a non-drinker because we’re implicitly and repeatedly told that alcohol is the lifeblood of student socialising; that there’s a bottle at the heart of every outing.
I have been to the Union sober. I’ve been to Mansion with just one bottle of beer in me. I’ve even been to Echos without so much as a drop of cider passing my lips, and please appreciate the absence of overstatement when I say that these instances are as close to hell as I’ve ever come without being dead.
I remember getting in from one sober night at the Union and dialling back my Facebook timeline, back to October 2011, and looking at the photos of me with strangers, the ‘recent friends’ whom I didn’t remember; seeing the random contacts on my phone with names like ‘cherry x’ and ‘hairy guy at Echos’, and I thought: ‘was it worth it?’ How many of these people do I still talk to? How many of them can I talk to without feeling ashamed or uncomfortable? How many of them would even remember me sober? When was the last time I even saw one of these people without a drink in their hand and five more in their stomach?
Ultimately, what I loathe the most about this, is how much of an issue it’s become. We’re at the stage now where we have to have articles by very well-meaning and articulate people saying that we don’t need to drink, articles tentatively telling us that we can socialise just fine without being under the influence of a drug so dangerous and potent that, if it were currently illegal, could not be legalised.
Katie, I enjoyed your article, and I’m sorry to say this, but it oozes the same scent as all of these saccharin anti-drinking articles do. You can tell us that it’s okay not to conform, but that doesn’t make it easy or even true. It comes across like just another futile objection swallowed by a sea of drunken cheering.
I’m clearly not advocating drinking, but I’m not advocating not drinking either. If you feel you have to drink to socialise, then do. If not, then well done, you deserve a pint, no, a cookie.
While I would love to implore people to join some societies, groups, sports teams, and socialise on a level that doesn’t involve alcohol, I can’t say that with comfortable sincerity. Sadly, many of societies’ socials are just excuses to get drunk and go out with a different set of people; glorified pre-drinks, everything is just preamble for a night out. You can cut the evening short, and not go out with them, but you’ll be remembered as such. It’s not a reputation you can easily shed, and you’ll always feel as though you’re somehow missing out.
You don’t need to take drugs – yes, alcohol is a drug – in order to interact with other human beings. The main reason we feel this need is because, before even arriving at Loughborough, we’re inducted into this self-perpetuating lifestyle of cheap and numerous drinks and forgotten nights. I still drink a lot, and I still go out, but only because this is just how university has always been for me. University is not innately about alcohol; this is a phenomenon we’re perpetuating ourselves without even realising what we’re doing.
As my time at university has progressed, I’ve gradually come to realise that more often than not, I prefer a low-key evening at the pub, or just heading over to a friend’s house and watching a film over one or two beers. I’ve realised that I feel slightly disappointed when someone’s description of an interesting and exciting evening ends with ‘then we’ll head out’. But then sometimes, I’ll have a craving for some terrible music and the scent of sweat and vodka.
Not only have I made many more friends at non-alcohol-fuelled events, but also I’ve made much better friends. Most of my closest friends are people I met while sober, and it unsettles me to see them drunk, because I’m suddenly so aware of how different our friendship is when we’re intoxicated. If your friendship is based on booze, then what’s left when the bottle is empty?
Alcohol shouldn’t be the defining purpose of university. Being away from home, in such a distinguished institution as ours, surrounded by likeminded people should breed a desire to become the person you’ve always wanted to be, and do the things you’ve always wanted to do with your life. If you want to go out and get smashed every once in a while, definitely do, but it depresses me how drinking has superseded all other facets of university culture, and installed itself as the integral component in all our lives.
Cultivate some real relationships, meet some people and get to know them on a genuine level that doesn’t require alcohol as a ‘social lubricant’, do something interesting with your time, money, and life. Why can’t we place more emphasis and importance on this?