It normally starts with the dreaded question, “Why aren’t you drinking?”
You sit there, clinging onto your pint of Pepsi that you hoped nobody would notice. The realities of explaining your personal life choices can be daunting, to say the least.
The struggle comes from a societal pressure to conform–and the burden of socialising is changing the way non-drinkers experience university. This irrational, generational fear of missing out is causing a struggle for those who don’t want to fit societal pressures and norms.
For some, alcohol abstinence is just part of the dreaded anticipation of peer pressure, potential exclusion and social challenges.
It’s no secret that drinking culture has long been associated with 21st century university life, and alcohol is–in some ways—deemed as the university student’s social beverage of choice.
The initiation of Fresher’s Week starts the school year into an alcohol-fuelled string of social events, from post-lecture pub drinks to clubbing events. Here, being a non-drinker can cause anxiety and apprehension.
As someone who chooses not to drink, I often find it’s one of the first things people notice about me during any social event.
Sometimes, I wonder if it’s just me being paranoid. I’ll unintentionally let the fact that I don’t drink slip, as if it’s a dirty little secret—but do people assume I don’t drink because I drive to classes? It’s a difficult situation that heightens my self-confidence, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to have been in this situation.
For those who choose not to drink, the act of declining an alcoholic beverage from their peers can cause an intense fear of being judged for their choice to stay sober. But, according to the Health Survey for England 2016, the biggest drop in adult alcohol consumption has been among young people between the ages of 16 to 24.
It seems that sober-culture is, somewhat, becoming socially common. However, as the number of non-drinking students goes up, the social pressures put on students to drink still prevail.
It’s safe to say that the perceptions surrounding non-drinking and peer pressure can contribute to some forms of negative stigma around alcohol abstinence.
The suggestion of “not being up for a good time” are just some of the behavioural preconceptions of a non-drinker by their drinking classmates. The association between alcohol and socialising a direct effect of this and—as a result—non-drinkers can find themselves isolated from classmates and friends.
Many non-drinkers can relate to being told, “Just one drink, it won’t hurt.” But, for someone who has made an informed personal, religious or health choice, this can be an uncomfortable scenario.
The easy solution would be to take this with a grain of salt, but for some, it can be far more problematic than this. Consequently, university students are still experiencing the same pressures of social drinking—although it’s no longer as rare.
With statistics showing that the proportion of both men and women drinking more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol a week has decreased between 2011 and 2016 (from 34% to 31% of men, and from 18% to 16% of women), there is generally a decrease of alcohol consumption overall.
With that being said, non-drinkers university should feel free to embrace their sobriety, trust their peers and put these societal pressures aside. Today, turning down a drink does not have to be a big deal.