The social spectrum at Cambridge is drowned in alcohol-associated eventsLisha Zhong

I didn’t choose to go teetotal and stop drinking alcohol; it was an imperative for my own mental health. I haven’t consumed alcohol since January – minus the occasional, and much regretted blip – and it's been a harsh adjustment.

Simultaneously turning 21 and shunning my age bracket's social lubricant of choice has been difficult to do. I always enjoyed getting drunk and being able to interact with other people without the burden of insecurity or acute self-awareness. It was a welcome escape from the everyday toil of being me.

The extent to which the social spectrum at Cambridge is drowned in alcohol-associated events means that a considerable portion of life at Cambridge is inaccessible

Transitioning to somebody who does not drink – at the University of Cambridge at least – feels like trying to walk in the opposite direction to everybody else. This is perhaps one of the few occasions where such tired cliches are actually useful explanatory tools; it’s not just that you’re competing against an incessant stream of people coming towards you, trying to weasel your way through, but that everyone notices you. You’re the glaring exception.

This isn’t to say that friends haven’t been accepting and supportive of my decision not to drink. However, there is still a chasm of misunderstanding and a lack of protocol between friends consuming alcohol around me (or, worse still, recounting recent experiences of alcohol), and the level of comfort I actually experience during these interactions. Random encounters with strangers in pubs and bars has yielded distinctly uncomfortable results. Recently, while with a friend in Novi, a group of students from ARU who were sharing our table with us, took to taunting me for not drinking and trying to pressure me into drinking shots. The jokes were of the ‘lad banter’ type, and made me want to launch into a monologue on how pathetic I thought they were, that their entire identity revolved around their ability to consume alcohol.

You become acutely aware how dependent people are on alcohol

This challenge has yielded some surprising results and observations. First and foremost, I’ve realised how weird alcohol and the behaviour that it enables is. As a teetotaller, you get an entirely new perspective on the behaviour that people exhibit when they’re drunk, and it’s cringingly embarrassing. You also become quite acutely aware how dependent people are on alcohol for all of the reasons I’ve listed above – as an escape from anxiety – which is fundamentally unhealthy.

Worse still, I’ve been able to approach and dissect my own behaviour as a drunk. For the most part this is tinged with nostalgia and resentfulness that I can no longer drink and partake in the fun with which it was  once synonymous. There are also some far less memorable experiences of the sort of obnoxious and rude behaviour that most drunks exhibit. These memories certainly aren’t missed.

Perhaps most importantly, and, indeed, most harmful for the life of the teetotaller, is the dawning realisation of the role that alcohol plays in Cambridge. It’s just everywhere. Despite the nominal inclusivity that so much of Cambridge preaches, and claims to abide by, these acceptances and tolerations haven’t really extended to creating an open and comfortable space for those who don’t drink, for whatever personal reason this may be.

Transitioning to somebody who does not drink feels like trying to walk in the opposite direction to everybody else

Particularly glaring and frustrating has been seeing societies who choose not only to host socials or squashes in pubs, but then articulate, in the event description, the necessity and appeal of alcohol. This wouldn’t phase most people, but for those who do not drink, it is foreboding to be encountered with this type of attitude.

It’s frustrating how prevalent this attitude and ignorance is across the spectrum of student activity. For example, the Cambridge University Conservative Association’s regular ‘Port and Policy’ events, as the name suggests, intrinsically excludes those who do not drink.


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Mountain View

Why I stopped drinking to get drunk

For non-drinkers, the extent to which the social spectrum at Cambridge is drowned in alcohol-associated events means that a considerable portion of life at Cambridge is inaccessible, or accessible but only to the extent that you’re able to confront your own demons and premonitions surrounding alcohol.

Perhaps the extent of feeling ostracised, excluded and unwelcome in alcohol-environments depends on the individual. For me, however, it’s fairly extensive; pubs, clubbing and May Balls are all beyond the level of discomfort that I can conceivably tolerate.

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