Students and alcohol go together like gin and tonic or like vodka and lemonade. Drinking is perceived by many to go hand in hand with life at university. Freshers week is well known for the non-stop partying and cheap drinks, with alcohol becoming a social aid for those trying to make new friends. Post-exam period is also a time to go wild, after not being able to go out clubbing for weeks.
It’s difficult to have a conversation about university without someone saying, “I bet the work gets in the way of the drinking” or “How much of your student loan is your beer money?” If you type student drinking into the Google, the first search that comes up is ‘student drinking games.’
For many students, the nightlife and social drinking is part of the appeal of university life, however what is it like for those that for one reason or another, don’t drink?
According to the Charity Drinkaware, which aims to change the UK’s drinking habits, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of 18-24-year-olds believe their friends will ridicule them for drinking a non-alcoholic drink on a night out.
Mohammad Syafiq, who is studying Architecture at the University of Sheffield, is a Muslim and therefore does not drink for religious reasons. He says, “it puts me off when I ask someone how their night was and they say, oh it was really good, but when you ask them why it was good, they can’t remember what happened.
“My friends don’t really pressure me and I think I can always be part of the fun without drinking.
“I have been tempted to try alcohol, but I don’t regret my decision not to drink, but sometimes I feel a bit weird when I’m at a house party and everyone has a can or glass in their hand but I don’t.”
Shaffiq admits that during Freshers Week it was hard being a teetotal student.
“I felt judged,” he says. “But I don’t feel like that anymore. Staying sober means that I can take care of my friends and one of my friends calls me his subconscious because I can always remember the night out when he can’t.”
Staying sober gives Shaffiq an advantage when it comes to his university work, “I go out clubbing quite a lot, but not drinking means I can get up and get things done the next day.”
In a survey carried out by student website Studentbeans.com in 2011, 53 per cent of students admitted to having missed lectures because they drank too much the night before and 20 per cent said that they would not be able to survive a term at university without drinking alcohol.
In terms of the non-drinkers 47 per cent said that they wished that drinking was not such a big part of university life.
“I will always stick to my decision and I am proud of my choice,” says Shaffiq. “A lot of people use alcohol for confidence or need it to have a good time, I’d prefer it if people drank alongside having a good time.”
Lizzy Tan, who is studying Medicine at the University of Edinburgh has been teetotal from the age of 16. She says, “I don’t want to lose control and do anything that will compromise my beliefs as I’m a Christian I have been firm in my decision not to drink and it is now second nature to me. I also don’t find being drunk attractive or safe, so I never have the desire to drink.
“I go clubbing at least three times a week. It never bothers me that everyone is drunk as I’m so used to it and enjoy seeing people so happy. Every time I go out somebody will try to offer me a drink but I obviously refuse.
“I think everybody can make their own decisions about alcohol and I don’t judge people in any way for what they do. Some people feel they need alcohol to have a good time, others do not, I think it just depends on the individual and their personality.”
Stephen Maughan, who is studying Systems Engineering at Loughborough University and has been teetotal all of his life says, “I don’t drink because I used to not like the taste and now I think what’s the point? People question why constantly, especially people you’ve just met, which is probably one of the worst things about drinking.
“I go clubbing and work in a nightclub. I’m fine with other people getting drunk but it enhances the evening when at least one person is not so drunk you can’t talk to them properly.”
Stephen says that people do try to pressure him into drinking but that “they tend to be strangers so I just walk away. My friends don’t bother trying! Someone once put a shot of spirit in my drink but I could tell really easily.”
Both Stephen and Lizzy say that they save money from being teetotal. Stephen says, “At university I save money, but only because I buy less liquid than people who do drink. I get sick of sugary drinks after a while. Elsewhere it does save me a lot of money but this is not my reason for not drinking!”
Lizzy agrees saying, “I save so much money as I only drink tap water when I go clubbing. However, if I bought soft drinks, I would probably spend more money.”
Shaffiq says that he can have a night out for under £10, including taxis there and back.
The University of Sheffield came 13th on the Studentbeans.com University Drinking League table with students drinking a total of 20.8 units a week.
Leeds Metropolitan University topped the chart with 26.7 units of alcohol drunk per student per week.
At Sheffield we even have societies dedicated to drinking such as the Cocktail Society, and the Real Ale Society.
Alcohol seems to be a part of the lives of the majority of students. But with scores of celebrity non-drinkers such as Russell Brand, Fearne Cotton and more recently Mcfly’s Dougie Poynter could teetotalism be on the rise?
At the moment there are five million non-drinkers in the UK according to the NHS and more and more people are choosing to stop drinking.
Maybe in the future, there will be more societies dedicated to tea (yes there is one at the University of Sheffield) than vodka.