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1st November 2022

Cocktail or mocktail? How to embrace being sober at university

How do you navigate being sober at university? Embracing the words “I don’t drink” is a skill, so here’s how, and why, you can do it
Cocktail or mocktail? How to embrace being sober at university
Photo: smspsy @ AdobeStock

Navigating student life sober can be difficult when binge drinking is the norm at universities. So, here are some tips for embracing sobriety at university and sounding confident when declaring: “I don’t drink”.

As students set off to university for the first time, they are inundated with advice on how to wash their clothes, cook nutritious meals and, overwhelmingly, recover from a dreaded hangover. Students are packed off with all kinds of hot tips on how to cope with the morning after, from taking paracetamol and drinking full-fat coke, to trying the ‘hair of the dog’.

Drinking and being a student are often seen as synonymous, and it’s usually the thing that provides the reason for social events. It becomes the focus of going out with your flatmates or is an easy destination, such as heading to ‘Turing Tap’ with coursemates after a long day. But what if you don’t drink or drinking isn’t something you like to do in excess?

Drinking alcohol is the norm for university students, so to stand out as someone who doesn’t drink is a brave decision. It means you will be asked why you don’t drink, others may try to cajole you into having just one drink, and then, of course, you may also feel that you won’t get asked out next time. This level of peer pressure can be hard to handle, even when it is subtle and seemingly friendly. Being confident when you say, “No thanks, I’m not drinking,” makes a world of difference, but this takes practice.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to believe that we can still be attractive, funny, and likeable without a drink. Alcohol gives us confidence and dissipates the initial awkwardness when meeting new people. Despite this, being strong about your beliefs or preferences is a great personal discipline. Prioritising yourself and standing by the choices you have made is a real strength.

There are many benefits to you as an individual in knowing your mind and managing your own behaviours. And on the drinking front, well, there are many personal pluses which you will arrive at quicker than your peer group, who will eventually call in or at least moderate their heavy nights out as they move through university life. This begins in the transition from mainstream clubs like ‘Factory’ in the first year to chilled bars like ‘Southside’ in the second.

The key personal benefits of not drinking at university are five-fold:

1. You save money

Alcohol is a costly business; prices are often inflated in clubs and events (like £7 for a double in ‘Playground’!), and you will invariably get dragged into buying rounds that can mean you overspend your budget. Let’s also not forget that when you have a drink, you tend to become more generous and offer to buy anyone and everyone a drink. This can lead to money worries and may mean you have to skimp on other things like your weekly shop.

2. You without alcohol is enough

You have a fantastic personality, which should be enough for you to make friends and be a great person to have along on the ride. Those who only like you or communicate with you through alcohol when inhibitions are reduced are not necessarily the real friends that you need. You are true to yourself when you are okay with not drinking: you make your own choices and it most likely means that you find genuine friends.

3. Not drinking by no means sets clubbing off limits

But you may need a few Red Bulls for the intensity of ‘The Warehouse Project’! Although you may not have the up-lift alcohol initially gives you, there are other ways to stay high-energy. Tricks like fuelling your body with food and having a coffee or an energy drink both help.

Choosing a venue with music you enjoy is vital: whether indie in ’42s’ or a 2000s night at ‘The Deaf Institute’, dancing to songs you love increases confidence and gives you the hit of dopamine that others are getting from alcohol. Plus, by being sober, you escape the 2 am alcohol energy crash that others experience and will be the last one on the dance floor.

However, not drinking means that you won’t always feel up to getting the bus into central Manchester and enduring the intensity of clubs like ‘Hidden’. Not being able to go on every night out is totally normal. Do you remember every night out you ever went on? Once that night is over, everyone forgets about it within a week.

The fear of missing out is entirely natural, but remember that people will want to spend time with you regardless. Planning other things like coffee dates, walks or brunch at Toast in Withington means that you don’t feel like you are completely missing out when you don’t go clubbing on the odd occasion.

4. Better health

Your health and well-being are boosted by not constantly having to recover from excess alcohol. You are ready the next day to go to lectures, hit the gym, or spend time meeting friends. Your energy levels will be higher, you will feel more able to cope with the busy university schedule, and you will have a strong defence against the feared freshers’ flu.

5. Fitting in is over-rated

You’ll find what you like to do, what your interests are, and discover places to go with friends who like you as they find you, and sober. Whether it’s vintage shopping in the Northern Quarter, playing in a sports team, or joining one of the many societies The University of Manchester offers, this is part of building your university life.

When surrounded by alcohol, drinking at university can often be an unconscious practice, but take the time to ask yourself whether you genuinely want to get ‘hammered’ tonight. The odd drink or wild night out won’t hurt, but it should always be by choice. Getting a balance is a good start and, as one sober student states, “mocktails taste better anyway”.

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