Diary of a sober student

A little deviation from the theme- but this shall be my first published feature in the Argus – page 8, Oct 12th – watch this space 🙂

As a student town Brighton has seen its fair share of binge drinking crises and residents are no doubt used to scenes of excess in their streets.

With another freshers week, fuelled by £1.50 drinks and 80p shots just passed, there is no doubt that halls and student houses will be filled with bleary eyed youngsters soothing sore heads and recuperating.

Binge drinking in universities gets enough media coverage to fill the inches of magazines and newspapers nationwide, but there is another breed hiding amongst the crowds: the sober student.

As a recent graduate, I hope to have left behind the glitzy world of neon-blue liquid and drunken barefoot walks home. This is not because I didn’t enjoy the freedom of flexible ‘working’ hours and lack of responsibility, but because existing as a student in a binge drinking culture is difficult when alcohol is not on your list of essential tools for a good night out.

I began my university career as might any other, drinking because suddenly I could. I was surrounded by a host of strangers I wanted to get to know and my inhibitions were too great to do so without a bit of liquid courage. The pattern of drinking, recovering and drinking again was considered the norm.

The idea that this behaviour was entirely expected was probably helped by the masses of flyers and promotions which were deposited through the letterbox daily, advertising the best, most inexpensive clubs and the cheapest drinks.

Getting a bit sloshed on a night out was a laugh, but as the time ticked by, and my third and final year approached, my relationship with the bottle turned sour.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment alcohol and I decided to call it a day. Perhaps it happened as I watched others incapable of putting one foot in front of the other, or maybe it was the cringe worthy conversations with taxi drivers as I tried to convince them none of my entourage would leave their dinner on his back seat.

A few sober nights out revealed to me the extent to which drinking has become an innate part of socialising. After learning to decline a drink, I became aware how alienating it is to be the token tee-total.

The typical student night begins with ‘pre-drinks,’ a few cheap bottles of vodka poured 50/50 with some supermarket own brand cola. Drinks here are hard to dodge, because the purpose the gathering is to get as much volatile liquid down your throat as possible to avoid buying drinks elsewhere.

The tightrope walk of the sober student is made even more difficult by the unavoidable inclusion of drinking games. Sticking to the lemonade here is seen as the ultimate betrayal of trust, and this is where most sober students are forced to give in.

Once the bottles are drained and the off-licence has closed, the procession of taxis is called and groups stumble into cars, or, failing a willing cash donor, the group will make their way to the bus stop.

Arriving at a club was always the time at which my night turned round. I get my kicks from dancing, singing and letting caution fly to the wind. The entire pre-drinking fiasco would blur to insignificance, and with half the group dancing and half running relays between dance floor and the bar, it was easy for people to forget that I wasn’t drunk.

As 2am approached, my sober legs would begin to slow and my bed always seemed like a sensible destination. Not so, it would seem, for the clobbered contingent, who would rather stay out until the sun began to peak. Staying out seems almost an impossible task as 3am and 4am pass the sober student by, yet leaving early brings the dilemma of further alienation.

There will always be, within any society, those who live to excess and drink beyond reason. The problem in student land is that for those who would rather refrain, socialising is a minefield of embarrassment and isolation.

It is likely that within the groups of excitable freshers, and seasoned third years, there are those who would truly rather enjoy life a little more sober. Individual students aren’t to blame for the displays of drunkenness we see every night, it is the culture they meet when they first unpack their bags.

The media portrays the image of the sloshed students, and clubs advertise themselves as venues for drunken hedonism. A club can be enjoyed without a drink in hand, and those in charge of running them seem to have lost sight of that.

With free shots on the door, it is almost impossible to see past the hazy drunken stupor, and until that changes, the sober student will likely find themselves looking on with confusion, and thinking how lovely it would be just to go to the beach and chill with a (singular) beer.

Published by michellearthursbrennan

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

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