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Opinion – Teetotalism in Universities

“What? Really? Why not?” That is the usual response from a fellow student when I reveal that I am teetotal. Sometimes, it is phrased more politely, with a “if you don’t mind me asking?” to cover up their obvious surprise. Others struggle more to hide their shock horror, recoiling with a “WHAT?” – the way I would imagine a person would react were I to tell them I had committed brutal murder. Either way, though the first is entirely more tolerable, it worries me that the question even needs to be asked by anyone. I do not drink, quite simply, because alcohol is bad for a person. It makes it harder to think clearly, leads to heart problems from cardiomyopathy to high blood pressure, liver sclerosis in the long term, certain cancers, etc. Many of these health issues are not simply down to alcoholism, to which students think they are immune, but also from a single binge-drinking session. So avoiding these deadly issues, at the expense of the supposed “deadly buzz” that alcohol brings, seems worth it to me. A simple logic.

Nevertheless, as I began my CAO choices, looking for an institution brimming with academia and logic, it never left my mind that I would be entering the stage of my life where the drinking culture around me would be most prevalent. It was my abhorrence of this culture that helped me in my decision to choose U.C.C., in fact. With the option of alcohol-free accommodation at Victoria Lodge, moving away from home was made easier. The prospect of house parties keeping me up on nights before exams and beer bottles scattered around my kitchen floor did not appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong, a house party or a few is fine, but take away my sleep when I want to sleep? We have a problem. Days after the CAO offers came out, when I had the joy of accepting U.C.C. as my university, I received the welcome pack, with a letter from the President of the university inviting all incoming first years to fill out the e-Pub survey, based on alcohol consumption. This further consolidated my trust in U.C.C., above the other academic institutions in Ireland, to share my mind-set on alcohol and student life. But after a semester in the university, did it match my hopes as a teetotal student?

I have had an absolute ball this semester, without a doubt or alcohol. When I told friends in Dublin that I was staying in alcohol-free accommodation before starting, they often expressed the possibility that I would share an apartment with socially inept “weirdos”. The opposite is true, and my evenings are spent in fits of laughter with my very funny, very lovely roommates. When friends suppose these things about people staying in alcohol-free, they separate me from their stereotype of a non-drinker. They do not seem to realise that their comments are aimed at everyone who does not drink, a group of which I am a part. People who do not drink are just as capable of having a good time and of being “normal” (whatever that is) as anyone who drinks. In fact, their ability to have fun without the use of a mind-altering substance shows perhaps a greater sociability.

I will not pretend that I am one for going out all the time, but occasionally I venture out into the world of pubs and clubs. I have no problem with people who drink, everyone is entitled to make their own decision, but I do have a problem with some of the general attitudes I observe. Aside from the previously-mentioned shock horror, an issue that I come across often as a non-drinker is other students’ idea that I need to be converted to their unhealthy faith. Comments such as “oh we will have you drinking by the end of the night”, even simple ‘ah go on’s are really irritating. It is as if what you are doing is something that needs to be prevented. Then, there are those who believe I have simply not been enlightened. “Everyone has to get plastered at least once in their life”. Do they? Does everyone have to irreparably damage their brain once in their life, on purpose? I wouldn’t say so. There is usually a direct correlation between people who say these statements and their own insecurity about their alcohol consumption. It is my advice to these people that if they want to drink, they should do so, but should not convince other people to follow them to validate their own behaviour.

I was aware before starting that clubs and societies were helpful for socialising as a non-going-out-all-the-time, non-drinker. So, on clubs and societies days, I signed up for many in which I was most interested. One week in, I received an e-mail from a club I had signed up for, revealing that they would be having a welcome social in a pub. I understand that there was no purposeful attempt at exclusion here, but as a result of me not attending the initial welcome, I felt too awkward to join a group of already-introduced people. Many Muslims, based on their faith, would never enter a pub. Societies meeting in pubs, some of which only meet in pubs, automatically exclude these people. It could be deemed religious discrimination were it not due to the mask of the drinking culture clouding that fact. I would invite the university to do more to distance the university’s societies from pubs, to create a more inclusive student life.

On the whole, I have had a fantastic semester despite of, and because of, my teetotalism. While the exclusive attitude that alcoholism brings still exists with vigour, the alcohol-free accommodation and care about student health that U.C.C. demonstrates make me feel much more comfortable as a student who chooses not to drink. Improvements could be made to the various societies that depend so much on pubs, however, to make me fully comfortable. All I want is to be able to have as good time as anyone, and this university really does help with that, though individuals within it can detract from it. I have many friends here, all of whom value my contribution to debate and discussion with no disregard for my non-drinking. I would encourage non-drinkers to consider U.C.C., but as a culture within and outside the university, we have a long way to go.