University Drinking Culture: The Challenge of Being Sober During Your Student Years

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There’s no denying the university drinking culture in the UK, from freshers week to student club nights, to weekly pub visits, to student union bars and so on, alcohol and partying has become a student rite of passage. 

In fact, a recent survey discovered that 81% of students themselves believe that drinking and getting drunk is part of university culture. 

Whilst excessive alcohol use may be glamorised and seen as a necessary component of student life, it’s not essential to drink alcohol to thrive at university. 

You can still have an amazing student experience and create everlasting memories and friendships whilst being sober. 

No matter the reason why you choose not to drink, we’ll be going over how you can experience your best uni life, alcohol or not.

university drinking culture

Being Sober At University – Not So Strange After All

It’s become the norm for the student experience to be associated with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and partying on nights out until the early hours, but you’ll be surprised just how many students don’t drink at all. 

Studies have found that levels of alcohol consumption by students have decreased in recent years, with 27% of 16-24 year olds stating they don’t drink alcohol at all, compared to 21% of the wider adult population who said they don’t drink.

There are so many reasons why someone may choose not to drink, whether it’s due to medical conditions, religious or cultural reasons, due to a history of alcohol abuse in their family or themselves, or, the simplest reason of all –  they just don’t want to. 

Whatever your reasoning for being sober, it can be challenging to navigate through your student years due to the undeniable intensity of university drinking culture in the UK.

To help you out, we’ve put together our best advice – we’ve been there and done that, and yes – a bit of “alumni” advice can be useful sometimes!

how to deal with being sober at university

1. Dealing With Peer Pressure 

Due to the university drinking culture in the UK, there’s an attitude amongst a lot of students that alcohol is needed to have a good time, and if you don’t drink, you must be boring or you’re missing out on all the fun – disclaimer, you’re not. 

Whilst being sober at university, there will be times where you’ll have to deal with peer pressure from people telling you to “just have a few drinks”.

In fact, it’s not just students this happens with, it’s a wider problem in our society. 

There are many forms of peer pressure and it can be subtle. Such as, your friends might say things like “come on, just have the one drink” or “everyone else will be drinking, why don’t you join in?”. 

However, it’s important to realise that if you’re surrounding yourself with a circle of friends who cannot accept your sobriety and your personal choice not to drink, they’re not  true friends. 

You don’t owe anyone a justification why you don’t drink, simply saying “no thanks” if you’re offered a drink should be a good enough justification for anyone that truly cares.

However, it’s important to realise that if you’re surrounding yourself with a circle of friends who cannot accept your sobriety and your personal choice not to drink, they’re not a true friend.

You don’t owe anyone a justification why you don’t drink, simply saying “no thanks” if you’re offered a drink should be a good enough justification. 

dealing with peer pressure university

2. Find Friends Who Share Your Values 

It’s important to surround yourself with healthy relationships whilst at university to give yourself a sense of belonging, to help with your happiness and strengthen your self-esteem. 

There’s no shortage of ways to make friends at university, from joining online groups to attending campus events to taking advantage of social media to making friends in your student accommodation.

It may feel like you’re on your own sometimes, but we’ve got some good news –  research shows there are 800,000 sober students across the UK!

That’s not to say you can’t be friends with people who do consume alcohol, but it is good to know there are people out there who share the same values, and truly “get it”, right?

This way, you can lean on one another in social situations where alcohol is involved, and you can do sober activities together.

The joys of early morning breakfast and a foamy cappuccino at 9am are something your party-goer uni friends might just have to catch up on later in life. 

It’s always nice when you have someone else who relates to your issues and you can support each other!

find friends who share your values university drinking culture

3. Try Alcohol Replacements 

With the university drinking culture that exists in the UK, there’s likely going to be a lot of social situations where you will be surrounded by people who are drinking. 

You don’t have to avoid these situations, you can still attend parties and nights out without consuming alcohol, and a lot of people do have just as much fun without! 

But If you are sober in drinking environments, and still fancy a cute glass of “something” to pose with for these Insta pics, why not take some mocktails? 

There are so many alcohol free alternatives out there nowadays, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out or you’re the odd one out for not chucking back the passion fruit martinis. 

The same goes for drinking in pubs and bars, there are so many non-alcoholic options to choose from. 

Although, if the reason why you do not drink is because of substance abuse, it may be triggering to put yourself in these situations, which takes us on to our next point of discovering alternatives ways to socialise.

trying alcohol replacements university drinking culture  

4. Discover Alternative Ways To Socialise 

We won’t sugar coat it, British people have a reputation for being big drinkers, and sometimes it can feel difficult to make plans with others that doesn’t involve sitting in a pub, heading to a park to drink when the sun comes out or going to a bar for a catch up. 

Whilst it doesn’t seem like it, there are plenty of alternative ways you can socialise with other students without the need for alcohol to be involved.

You can switch up that bar catch up for a coffee and some lunch, you can attend events on campus, which aren’t centred around drinking, you can host a cooking night in your student flat, head to a museum or gallery with your friends and so on. 

Chances are, if your buddies drink alcohol, they’ll probably love the idea of mixing things up and doing something different for a change.

It beats a hangover after all and it is a whole lot more wholesome (and plenty more memories retained too!)!

discovering alternative ways to socialise

5. Pursue A Hobby 

To deal with being sober during your student years, it’s important to focus on your mental and physical wellbeing, and one way you can do this is by pursuing a hobby. 

Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of pursuing a hobby, including reducing stress, improving your mood, boosting your energy as well as helping to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. 

So, not only will a hobby keep you busy and unleash your creative streak, it’s good for your overall well being too – enjoy your independence! 

In need of some hobbies to invest your time and energy into?

You could take up creative writing, play a new instrument, learn a new language, start photography and so on, there’s so many activities you can choose from. 

pursuing a hobby

6. Practise Healthy Living 

Student life is difficult enough with academic pressures, but when you’re teetotal at university, it can feel even more challenging to navigate through these important years whilst living a life slightly different from the majority.

You may encounter some challenges whether it’s finding it hard to fit in, dealing with peer pressure and struggling to make friendships, but you can do wonders for your own mental and physical health by leading a healthy life. 

It’s easy to get yourself down and focus on the negatives in your life, but a few ways you can help to trigger dopamine and practice self care is by staying active, developing a routine, keeping a journal, getting enough sleep as well as eating regular well-balanced meals. 

practice healthy living

7. Focus On Your Studies 

Whilst the university experience is often associated with nights out with friends, partying until the early hours, going on pub crawls, and so on, at the end of the day, the reason why you’re there in the first place is to get a degree out of it. 

So, if you’re finding it challenging to stay sober during your student years and you feel like your student experience might differ from everybody else’s, we’d suggest throwing yourself into your university course. 

If you’re passionate about your studies and focused on staying productive, you won’t be as worried about navigating  the social aspect of student life and FOMO (fear of missing out); instead you’ll be on the path to achieving  your goals and securing your dream future!

focusing on your studies university student

8. Seek Out Support If You Need It 

If you’re struggling with being sober at university, perhaps because you’ve had issues with alcohol in the past and have recently quit, or even if you’ve never drank alcohol and are finding it hard, there is support out there. 

No matter the struggles you’re facing, don’t be afraid to reach  out and get help, whether it’s speaking to your university’s student services team, talking to your GP, or confiding in your friends or family. 

There are many helpful online resources out there you can utilise too, like Student Minds, YoungMinds and UMHAN to name a few.  

seeking out mental health support university drinking culture

Despite the normalisation of the university drinking culture in the UK, it is possible to remain sober during your student years and enjoy yourself.

Hopefully our guide has provided you with helpful advice on staying sober whilst at university!

Wondering how you can discover your love language? Take a read of our blog post to find out. 

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