Lifestyle, Opinion

“The emphasis on alcohol as an intrinsic part of ‘student culture’ can risk alienating students”: Why more students are backing away from booze

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By Ben Thompson


A recent article in The Independent reported that one in five university students are teetotal, meaning they abstain from drinking alcohol. The report was backed up by a survey conducted by the National Union of Students, which found that a quarter of students feel that there should be more alcohol-free activities on campus.

For many people, coming across the headline ‘One in five university students say they do not drink any alcohol’, would result in initial shock. University students are always out drinking, aren’t they? Isn’t that part of the ‘university experience’ we hear so much about? Isn’t it the reason why Fresher’s Week has become so infamous, and why, for better or for worse, you’re more likely to be handed a leaflet by a club promoter than a Jehovah’s Witness while walking across a university campus?

Speaking to teetotal students, however, it became clear that their reasoning is wide-ranging and logical. First year Chris was quick to inform me that he hadn’t had a drink in two months. His decision was made for the sake of his fitness – he wanted to cut down on a “beer belly” and bring out his abs. Second year student Mike had a multitude of reasons as to why he doesn’t drink: he’d prefer to spend time with his girlfriend, he thinks clubbing is a waste of money, and his stomach can’t handle too much alcohol. Occasionally, he’ll go out to the pub, but will limit himself to one or two drinks. Maariya, who is in her second year, doesn’t drink on the grounds of being a practising Muslim, but hasn’t buckled to any of the expectations placed on students, feeling that she doesn’t need to get drunk to have fun. In fact, many Muslims, Hindus and Mormons practice teetotalism on religious principle.

The emphasis on alcohol as an intrinsic part of ‘student culture’ can risk alienating students who aren’t fans of traditional nightlife. The Independent quoted a first-year student from Glasgow, who found the abundance of pub-crawls and club events in Freshers’ Week ‘daunting’, and said that ‘it can feel quite isolating’.

Even in the year since I started studying, I have felt my own attitudes towards alcohol shift slightly. When I started out, drinking was the be-all and end-all of the week. Alcohol would make up for a stressful week full of deadlines, scouring through journal articles and working in retail. After a couple of days of hangovers, however, I began to consider whether it was really what I wanted. It was getting to the point where I’d be halfway through a night out and there’d be a jolt in my stomach, as if a heavy weight had crashed into me. It was like a prelude to the morning sickness, and, inevitably, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of my night.

Don’t get me wrong, alcohol consumption can be enjoyable for many people. If it weren’t for all the health complications that would follow, I could happily live on cocktails alone. However, we should consider moving away from this mindset that the only way to have fun in uni is to get completely wasted and spend the next day in a catatonic state. In particular, we need to ditch the idea that the cure for student blues is to go out and dance in a puddle of sticky alcohol until 4am. Suffering mental health – a growing problem on campuses across the country – is not something that can be resolved with a few tequila shots.

Thankfully, many teetotal students are now being accepted into the fold and invited on nights out, even if they’re abstaining from the alcohol consumption. However, many teetotal students clearly continue to feel like they’re on the outside looking in, and that’s why student culture has to change.

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Ben Thompson

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