Freshers week is widely renowned as the booze-fuelled week of first year student orientation, full of inebriated clubbing, brutal hangovers, and limited (if any) sleep. For stereotypical straight white northern lads – a category I find myself in the middle of – this lifestyle is especially the norm and expectation for not just freshers week, but the entire university experience. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way: freshers can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience without involving a single drop of alcohol. How do I know? I’m doing it.
Why I don’t drink is a recurring inquiry, but is, and always has been, a moot point. I found that finding a group of friends who don’t feel the need to pry and peer pressure you into drinking is instrumental in having a positive freshers experience.
Fortunately, I found an accepting group of friends on my course who all drank, but were absolutely unfazed by my abstaining, and at no point was it ever a big deal or source of contention. In fact, the most common reaction was “you know, I can respect that”. Frankly, the teetotaller lifestyle didn’t get in the way of any classic freshers week activities: I joined drinking games with the substitute ‘forfeit’ of neat concentrated squash; trips to Spoons were replete with J20s, and nobody batted an eyelid.
Sober clubbing is fun, but admittedly not nearly as invigorating as it appears to be for those on the lash around me. But having your wits about you is definitely advantageous in certain situations when you’re out partying, such as an upset friend needing support, or taking care of certain utterly sloshed mates needing to get home safely. And yes, thank you messages from those individuals are always warmly received for filling in the ‘designated driver’ role the previous evening.
Another major plus as a result of not drinking is the lack of the eye-watering financial hit a night out on the lash can have on the bank balance. The average student spends £20-30 per week on alcohol. Over the course of an average 3 year degree (or in my case, 4) that’s enough to fly from Manchester to South Africa and back. Ten times. Or buy a pretty nice second hand car.
I spent a large proportion of my freshers week attending as many events and signing up to as many societies as I could to keep busy – everything from the UAV/Drone society to university brass band, ultimate frisbee and trampolining to the student TV station. Without the hangover fog looming over me, I was able to attend more and be more attentive at these events.
That isn’t to say that everyone reading should immediately abstain from drinking at University completely; for many it is an integral part of the university experience. I’m also not saying I’m the next revolutionary for the cause of teetotalism, or that I’m the only one who has ever not drunk at university (according to NUS, that figure is estimated to be around 20% of the student body).
Simply put, I find that there can be an overwhelming expectation to drink at university, particularly during freshers, which can seem suffocating and unavoidable – but it doesn’t have to be. The right friends will respect your choices and you will enjoy the undoubted advantages!
So, if you choose to, it is very possible to have a dry (and enjoyable) freshers experience, and your liver (and bank account) will thank you for it later.