“Why don’t you drink?” is perhaps one of the most common questions that I get asked, usually coupled with a quizzical look as the person that I’m talking to tries to size me up. I know that I am not alone in this experience of having to justify my (lack of) drinking habits. I am just one of the growing number of young people today who classes themselves as teetotal. In fact, an ONS study from 2017 found that more than a quarter of 16-24-year olds are non-drinkers, and the movement keeps on growing.
However, despite the decrease in drinking culture amongst young people, it’s clear to see that university life, and fresher’s week, in particular, are dominated by alcohol-focused events. The fresher’s and returner’s programmes heavily centred on boozy nights out, which are understandably popular for the majority. It’s a time to celebrate our newfound independence and party before the work of the semester ahead demands your full attention. There is no doubt that fresher’s week ought to be fun and give us an opportunity to socialise, but I believe that this week ought to be more inclusive for those who abstain.
Arguably the SU has been working towards a more-inclusive, teetotal-friendly culture. Their website even has a section to search for non-alcohol focused events, and their new alcohol impact initiatives are trying to reduce the negative impacts of alcohol on the lives of UEA students. Their survey found that 72 per cent of students who responded disliked socialising with others who get too drunk and ruin nights out, and about a third of students drink less than once a week. It’s not what you would expect to hear from your stereotypical student.
To try to be more inclusive and promote responsible and safe drinking habits, the SU also has a Red Card policy in all union venues. Should you arrive drunk, behave disrespectfully or aggressively, then you are issued a red card. The card not only means that you’re excluded from the venue for the night, but it also means that this behaviour needs to be followed up and discussed with a member of SU staff.
In addition to this, SU policy dictates that when having society socials, it should be made clear that members do not have to drink. Many societies do have alcohol free events, but these are not always prioritised. The drinking culture around society socials doesn’t always make it accessible or fun for those who do not drink, so being a teetotaller on a university campus can be very isolating.
New societies have cropped up across campus to combat this, including Societea where Dutch courage is not required to make friends – instead, members prefer to chat over a good cuppa.
As the only teetotal person amongst my friends, I still enjoy evenings out with them while they have a glass or two of wine or a pint, as long as there is a suitable selection of alcohol-free alternatives. But on campus, those alternatives are lacking, and the culture of pre-drinks means teetotallers can feel even more out of place on nights out. This is where the SU needs to focus some of its attention if it wants to be more inclusive and make spaces like the bars and the LCR more considerate. It should create more alcohol-free spaces and events that everyone can enjoy (and remember the day after).