Empty Bottles

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?

Picture: Lauren Clarke

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.


5 Responses to “Empty Bottles”

  1. Ben

    Binge Drinking can be a problem for some students but the real ale society and cocktail society promotes safe drinking if anything. It is the appreciation of certain drinks – Just a group of people enjoying a few quiet drinks, choosing not to spend the whole night excessively drinking!

  2. Michael Bates

    Not only is the article poorly written, but I find its needless attack on the cocktail and real ale societies to be ridiculous and poorly conceived. From what I remember, the cocktail society is about people having fun learning to make cocktails, learning how to flair, and other such activities (at least, it was 2 years ago, has it become a binge drinker’s society?)

    The real ale society, however is definitely not about binge drinking. Or even encouraging drinking to surfeit; it encourages the consumption of local, artisan brews made by conscientious craftspeople rather than the yellow water that larger corporations advertise everywhere. They encourage the support of local pubs and businesses, and drinking responsibly. Even if the members get drunk, they will never have consumed as many units as someone drinking £1 shots; there just isn’t the alcohol content available if you’re drinking £3+ pints.

    An idiotic move based upon a misunderstanding of what these societies represent.

  3. Dominic Hughes

    Dear Forge Press,

    Without stating the obvious, English universities are clearly places of extreme binge drinking. This is hardly deniable, but rather than point the finger of blame towards Cocktail and Ale societies perhaps your article might focus on the actual causes of this drinking epidemic. These societies actually practice a rather subdued level of drinking and are more about the creation and enjoyment of flavour from these drinks. Have you considered that this university has a brewing programme? This doesn’t mean that it promotes reckless drinking though, does it.
    The real culprits are the nightclubs, bars and largely the university. The university and the union both make a lot of profit from alcohol sales which contrary to the socially responsible aims of the companies that make the drinks, are sold at ridiculously cheap prices. Perhaps it would be better to attack the universities policies on allowing promoters to hand out flyers offering student drinks discounts on university premises like on the concourse? This type of journalism would be better perceived as it would actually make a step towards curbing the access to alcohol.
    Did you think about mentioning the Give it a go cocktail making sessions when you were slandering the societies, or consider that even if a society isn’t alcohol based it will have alcohol themed nights, except in the few cases of religious groups etc. These other societies have trips to nightclubs as their nights out, not listening to authors talk about their books, sampling sessions that involve drinking less than a pint, or lectures working on the science of alcohol. You won’t find many of the Ale society members out on West street knocking down jäger bombs, and pints of stella, will you? That’s if you had asked.
    From a journalistic point of view at a university paper it would be better to have more quotes and statistics from this university. It seems irrelevant to know what a Loughborough student is saying. It would also be pertinent to say that not all muslims don’t drink, and the same for Christians, who actually drink wine at communion.
    I realise that a lot of people might be taking this article with a pinch of salt, but by attacking the wrong people, you are risking not being heard by those you may be attempting to reach.
    Dominic Hughes
    MSc Microbrewing

  4. Anoymous

    I’ve never been a drinker, and when I started university, I was terrified about feeling pressurised.

    But my friends aren’t big drinkers and they’ve never pressured me. It’s only ever people who don’t know me who do – or, even worse – who automatically judge me for my choices. That, more than anything, is what I really hate… as you can probably tell from my decision to comment anonymously.

    To be honest, though, I do think that this article presents a very odd view of non-drinkers, and that the fact it had to be written at all is a poor reflection on university culture.

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