Given the number of times I get asked why I don’t drink, you would think I’d have a straight answer prepared by now. When the subject comes up I always find myself scanning through a list of potential responses. My liver? My finances? My fear of making a fool of myself in front of others? Most of the time, however, I ultimately just shrug and spoof something along the lines of “I’m just boring, I guess!” I don’t want my teetotalism to be the defining aspect of my personality. It’s not something I particularly pride myself on – it’s just something I do, like dying my hair. Since starting college, however, I have noticed that, when meeting new people, it doesn’t often take long for the matter to come up in conversation.
I don’t consider myself superior to people who like a drink. I also want to socialise and get to know people just as much as the next person. I have to accept, though, that for a lot of people on campus, alcohol is essentially a tool for making friends, and I don’t just mean loosening inhibitions so they can talk to new people. Stumbling hungover into a 9am lecture together and laughing about the previous night’s drunken escapades is how a lot of people bond and find their circle of friends in college. I do feel slightly alienated from my classmates when this happens – it’s never easy being the only one not involved in inside jokes and the like – but I try not to wallow in self-pity because I signed up for this. It was something I chose to do – or not do, as it were – so I haven’t got much of a right to complain. There are plenty of other ways to meet people in college, and I have made some lovely friends. There is still that lingering feeling, though, that I’ll never be fully integrated into this class or that society because so much of the socialising involves drink and clubs.
Not enjoying nightclubs is something that seems to go hand in hand with not drinking. If you’re not “buzzed”, you’ll find that there’s not much appeal to dark, crowded rooms with techno music thumping so loudly that the floor is shaking. Again, no disrespect to anyone who is partial to techno: it’s just not my thing. I’m much more content sitting in a pub or coffee shop where there’s light, space, and a volume suitable for actually talking to people. What’s amusing is how people have in fact admitted to me that they feel the same way – there’s this pack mentality associated with nightclubs that everyone who goes has to have a good time. I suppose in this way, my not drinking is something of a get-out-of-jail-free card. No one expects me to enjoy nightclubs, so I don’t have to pretend I do.
It’s no secret that college life in Ireland is inextricably linked with alcohol, but I feel that no one is more aware of this than me. It seems like almost every event is just pre-drinks for something – movie screenings, showcases, table quizzes – there’s always “afters”, or the night culminates in a club. Again, I’m sure there are people who genuinely want to go to a club after these social events, but why does it always end up being the focus of the night? At the end of a recent pub quiz, I found myself leaving for home just as a group of my classmates were arriving as everyone moved from the pub to Workman’s. We both experienced completely different evenings even though the event in question was meant to be a way of getting to know people. As I said, I’m fully aware that this is something I signed up for when I made the decision to abstain from drinking. It’s just disappointing sometimes when events like quizzes or movie nights get overshadowed because there’s usually a group of people that skips straight to the afters. Maybe it’s a way of ensuring that everyone gets something out of the night, but at the same time, it leaves people like me looking like a bit of a loser. I’d love if the societies struck a better balance between “nights out” and “social events with a specific planned activity”.
“Peer pressure” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot in the alcohol debate, but I think pressure around alcohol isn’t what people envision it to be. I’ve rarely experienced other people egging me on to have a drink, but every now and again I feel a sort of internal pressure to loosen up. Peer pressure is less a case of people telling you “go on, go on, go on”, telling you you’re a loser or a bore, and more a case of looking around and thinking “everyone else here is having more fun that me” and “everyone else here is drinking”. Again, it calls into question how much people act as if they’re enjoying themselves, but even I can’t deny that a few drinks makes most enjoy themselves more. What it boils down to for me is control. I want to stay in my comfort zone when I’m socialising, and personally if that means being the first person to leave for home all the time, so be it. Some people prefer to get more out there, possibly at the expense of their livers, which is totally fine by me.
While I maintain that I have no right to pass judgement on any individual who drinks, drinking culture in Ireland baffles me. I simply don’t understand how so many people see binge drinking as a rite of passage, a mandatory undertaking at any social event. The week of my sixth-year graduation coincided with the week Ed Sheeran was playing in the Phoenix Park, and I overheard several people moaning about the damage that would inevitably be done to their livers as a result of the two events. Did it even occur to them that they didn’t have to drink, or even just not go wildly over their limit? I’ve been to concerts and had the time of my life completely sober. I do enjoy nightclubs every once in a while. I’m by no means the life and soul of the party, either. It’s honestly not unthinkable to enjoy yourself at one of these events while sober.
I’m not saying we should all stop drinking tomorrow – I just wish people would stop looking at me as if I have two heads when I tell them I’m going to pre-drinks but not actually drinking. It’s really not that radical a decision. Like the fictional aggressive vegan stereotype, (which is also unfounded, but that’s a discussion for another day) most teetotallers are in fact fairly relaxed about other people’s drinking habits. Sure, there will be some people who just get up on their soapbox and preach about their wholesome and fulfilling diets of MiWadi, but they’re a minority within a minority.