Imagine a park in the city, on a summer’s day in May. Now fill that park with large groups of Cambridge students: some in fancy dress, some sat on picnic blankets, all drinking in excess for the last time before exam season starts. Welcome to Caesarean Sunday.
For one day every year, the green spaces surrounding Cambridge fill with raucous students, all with one aim in mind: getting as drunk as possible. While many are too intoxicated to make it past 7pm, falling asleep in their bedrooms mid-afternoon, others head to the clubs for more shots and dancing.
I, meanwhile, am making the most of the empty college library. Partly because I’m fretting about my finals. But mostly because I don’t drink.
Despite being a stereotypical student in lots of ways, I differ from my peers in that I’m sober by choice. The pressure to consume alcohol throughout university is huge, and drinking culture is heavily ingrained in the university experience. Birthdays, socials, even chapel services(!), all revolved around drinking – something which came to a head for me during my first year exams. Sitting in the exam hall, trying to remember something, anything useful from my lectures, I had the realisation that I had been hungover in every one. I felt like I was throwing my degree away.
That, paired with the aggressive hangovers I used to suffer from, meant I made the decision not to drink. And I’m not alone. Sobriety is on the rise among young people; in a 2015 survey from BMC Public Health, 29% of 16 t0 24-year-olds identified as non-drinkers, up 11% from 2009.
There isn’t one clear reason for this, with some sober students citing cost and health concerns, while others simply don’t want to feel rubbish the next day. “I’m sober because I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I drink something soft instead,” 21-year-old Ria, from University of East Anglia, tells Cosmopolitan UK. “I still go on nights out, to parties, for drinks, and pull all-nighters. The only difference is that I never get a hangover the next day.”
For others, it’s more the excessive nature of drinking that puts them off consuming alcohol. Fines and ‘pennying’ (putting a coin in someone’s drink so they have to finish it) are the norm on nights out, and sports club initiations don’t involve showing off your athleticism, but rather how quickly you can down a pint. “I watched people get into terrible states,” Amber, 21, tells Cosmopolitan UK. “It was overwhelmingly off-putting – my friends behaving in ways they never would sober – slurring their words, ripping their tights. It made me never want to drink again.”
For students like Amber, though, the response to being teetotal isn't always a welcoming one, and there are people that don't get it. 'What? You're sober by choice?', they'll ask, as if it's like choosing not to have fun. And it's true that it can sometimes get in the way of being part of plans - I find sober socialising tricky at times, and always seem to be the first one to leave on nights out. Alcohol is so intertwined with university culture, you worry you'll be left out for not being a part of it - for actively choosing not to partake in everyone else's favourite hobby.
But I had a real determination to enjoy myself during university, regardless of the lack of alcohol I was consuming, and many of my friends accepted that. Like me, Ria says her sobriety didn’t affect her social life, adding that you can have just as much fun without feeling the need to be intoxicated. “[My friends] respect it, and aren’t exclusionary, although they often ask why. It honestly makes no difference whether you drink or not, you can still make friends and do everything you want to,” she insists.
And I feel the same. Though being sober meant I avoided events like Caesarean Sunday, I made friends just as easily without drinking, and have a fulfilling and fun social life. Like Ria adds, “I haven’t missed out on anything that would interest me, I still go to events where most people will be drinking if they sound fun.”
Being sober at university was tough during the times where I missed out on big socials, or didn't join a society because of the focus on drinking, but it’s definitely been worth it. I get to experience all the same things as my peers with a clear mind, and without the fuzzy head the next day. It’s boosted my confidence and I'm happy with who I am - many students I know think their personality is best when they’re drunk, but I don’t need that excuse. I know myself so much better and have more self-confidence than I would if I drank. It’s been the right decision for me.
You Might Also Like