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“Down it Fresher!”- staying teetotal at university

Over the years drinking has become synonymous with University life. Moving away from the family home is a massive upheaval, and for many it is their first taste of complete freedom.
Emerging blinking into the blinding sunlight of their newfound independence students, whilst complaining that they are already paying £9000 in fees and are thus so poor they live off noodles and tap water, seem to have a bottomless wallet (or, at least, no concept of what an overdraft really is) when it comes to the purchase of drinks on or before a night out.

Alcohol Fresher

Seemingly unbelievable promotions, from free shots on entry to Pure’s infamous “8 drinks for £8”, are rife in Freshers week, handed out in the rain on campus by student “promoters” desperate to sign more people up to their guestlist. Bottles emptied of the gin or cheap rosé they once held pile up by the microwaves in residence kitchens where bin men refuse to collect them, or line windowsills as crude trophies of the students nursing hangovers within. Everybody wants to fit in with their newfound peers and the common perception is that alcohol is key to making friends.

Sadly, there is no denying that an alcohol-quaffing student with few fears of the dance floor is going to have an easier time when it comes to breaking the ice in social situations than their teetotal counterpart. When the drinks are flowing and the cries of “down it, fresher!” ring out, “sorry, I don’t drink” seems a very feeble excuse indeed. Although the Student Union has brought in measures forbidding socials solely concerning the consumption of alcohol so as not to exclude non-drinkers, beer-pong and pub crawl socials are the norm. It is hard to imagine many of the societies paying any attention to this rule.

The use of alcohol as a means of induction and bonding is rife through many societies. This is not just an issue in its capacity to exclude those who do not wish to drink large amounts of alcohol, it is an issue because of the behaviour it encourages and propagates. Students embarking upon their first few weeks at UEA should not be surprised to see large groups of sportsmen wearing only black bin bags running around campus. Only two years ago the men’s Rugby society was disbanded for a year following complaints of racist and sexist behaviour by players in public on nights out.

However, all is not lost for a fresher whose taste for refreshment stretches only so far as a virgin cocktail. The most important question to ask oneself – whether in regards to alcohol consumption or otherwise – is “who do I want to be friends with?”

The solution is to be yourself. Although that is a wonderfully clichéd sentiment, it holds a value that cannot be underestimated. It goes without saying that one can never be happy surrounded by friends with whom have to keep up an act or persona just to stay liked. The people who you will get on best with – go to classes with, get takeaways of dubious edibility with and, ultimately, share a house with – will be drawn to you for reasons far removed from your lack of drinking.

Another simple realisation is that anyone worth being friends with won’t care whether you’re drunk or not. As a student who on his last night before University drank fourteen vodka and cokes and hasn’t been truly able to stomach alcohol since, I have never once had any friends pass comment when I play ring of fire with a pint of Coke, or break into staggeringly embarrassing dancing in clubs unable to blame it on anything in my system. I have passed through University drinking no more than a single pint or a Coke at any time, without anyone I know so much as raising an eyebrow.

All that matters in Freshers Week is that everyone around you is in exactly the same position, alcohol or not. Be friendly, be brave, be sober, whatever. Go on. Go and say hi to that person sitting alone next to you.


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Joel Taylor

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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