“I’ll have a Coke, please”
“Double or single?”
“No, no – just a Coke”
Bewilderment. Hesitation. He just looks at me and stares. There's a slight frown on his forehead, and then he twigs; “Oh, urm, sure - just a Coke”. His confusion turns to embarrassment, and he shuffles awkwardly to pour my drink.
Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon conversation for me to have on a night out. But, as a sober 21-year-old, it appears I’m not actually alone in shunning alcohol.
Did you know that nearly 30% of people between the ages of 16-24 don't drink at all? According to the BMC Public Health Journal, more than 25% of young people cast themselves as "non-drinkers", while the recent World Health Organisation report revealed that teenage drinking in Britain has fallen by 80% since 2002.
Why? Some may argue that more and more young people don't drink because of the pressures of social media. Instead of worrying about taking drugs and drinking until you puke, it’s been claimed that Gen Z are more worried about keeping up their physique (in order to look good on Instagram) than going “crazy” on a night out.
I stopped drinking when the combination of a terribly poor uni diet and one-too-many drunken nights made me pile on weight. I was also finding it harder and harder to hold my drink. I used to bounce out of bed at 8am after a night out, but come second year I was losing pretty much a whole day – sometimes more – at the hands of the night before.
There's so much pressure on university students to “have it all” and to succeed. I ended up feeling so guilty after a night out, knowing I’d then wasted a whole day recovering on the sofa (instead of making the most of every opportunity and being productive in the library).
I was also in a pretty questionable place in second year, and going out and getting blackout drunk every night wasn’t helping my mental health at all. Alcohol made me feel anxious and out of control. I didn’t enjoy feeling so on edge every time I drank, and it started to negatively impact me in more ways than one. So, I quickly turned into a complete non-drinker. And, honestly, I wouldn’t look back. Of course, I still love a good night out, but alcohol-free-me is actually a lot more fun.
I think more and more people are realising alcohol is not the gateway to a great night out, and I love that. I’m glad people are making their own choices on how they chose to enjoy their time at university and beyond – and aren’t succumbing to peer pressure.
My mates are all to used to me opting for a Coke over a cocktail, and they don’t think any less of me because of it. In fact, truth be told, I think they often like having a sober friend there just to make sure everyone’s okay.
I do think that sometimes it’s really easy to feel alienated for not drinking though, especially with university ‘binge-drinking’ culture. But the increase in young people choosing not to drink alcohol suggests that it’s becoming more acceptable – we shouldn’t be made to feel like we need a drink in hand to fit in, and to have a good time.
So let’s quit this stereotype that you need to spend the entirety of your uni years ‘boozed up’ to enjoy them. Because FYI, you don’t.
- Jessica is a recent Business and PR post-grad from LJMU and is very rarely seen without a brew in hand - but not a pint, let’s not forget that.