Opinion: You can still enjoy Bristol University without participating in drinking culture

Drinking may be a large part of university life, but you can still enjoy your nights out while sober

When the topic of university comes up with parents, siblings, or friends it is often quickly followed by the subject of alcohol, and drinking more generally. Many of those who go to uni look back fondly on their nights out, the drunken memories making up a large percentage of their social interactions with both strangers and friends. The famed antics surrounding Freshers’ Week invariably include stories of how many times in a row you got bladdered or how your new flatmate downed a bottle of vodka at a pres before promptly passing out before the club night.

Such a large proportion of time when not studying revolves around the pub, the club or even just a bottle of wine on a ‘quiet night in’. However, for some drinking doesn’t appeal in this way, some perhaps are unable to drink due to medical reasons, for others it may be a dislike of the taste of alcohol, some even come with the intention to drink and yet end up stopping due to the dreaded ‘hangxiety’ which may accompany a night out.

What is changing for certain though is that fewer and fewer university-age adults are drinking, a 2019 health survey concluded that at least 30 per cent of adults aged 16-24 were reportedly drinking less than once a week. Presumably, these students are pioneering a new university social life away from the excesses of alcohol.

Whilst alcohol can truly improve a university experience, providing the supposed confidence needed to interact with and make new friends, it can also leave you with regret and a Sunday morning hangover. Instead, there remain plenty of options for keeping a social life without the need for alcohol, for example, meeting a friend for coffee instead of going for a pint. In a world in which you stay away from alcohol you may assume nights out become tedious or boring, but it’s crucial to remind yourself that they are what you make of them as opposed to how quickly you and your mate completed Ten Before Ten at the Cori Tap.


Clear memory and no longer having a desperate need for a bacon sandwich or McDonald’s breakfast are some of the many health benefits of not drinking. Not consuming 2,500 calories of beer before a greasy Jason Donervan kebab, which may or may not make a reappearance once you’re awake is another. Instead, you can regale your friends the following morning about how they couldn’t walk straight for half the night or get up clear of mind and body to, dare I say it, finally start work on that New Year’s Resolution of running a 10K.

In writing this I spoke to Josh Butler a second year, sober curious physics student, for him periods of not drinking became the response and reality after a bad drunk experience and never feeling 100 per cent due to consistent hangovers. Instead, Josh talks of how he still enjoys his nights out. whilst he never considered a sober night out before university, he now talks of how some nights out replace alcohol with ‘nicotine and caffeine to feel a level of intoxication so I don’t feel so weird or out of place.’

The best method he can suggest for enjoying your night out without the familiar warming and heady feeling of alcohol is to replace it with someone who will also give you a buzz. He also has two other strong pieces of advice namely knowing ‘what you will and won’t enjoy and avoiding aspects where you’ll feel uncomfortable if sober.

‘It is also important to be drinking something, even if just a diet coke as it makes you feel less like the odd one out!’

Drinking something to just feel involved is only becoming easier, insights firm KAM in a 2023 survey commissioned by Lucky Saint found 29 per cent of pub trips to be alcohol free. This is testament to the growing quality of alcohol-free beer, you can drink pint after pint without the ill effects or avoid your mates taking the mick as you’d otherwise order your fifth Coke of the night. The alternatives to alcohol remain plentiful, sticking to lime and soda leaves you with more money than you can dream of; something everyone is grateful for in this current cost-of-living crisis.

Whilst university remains a place where the prevalence of alcohol cannot be understated, remaining sober or sober-curious doesn’t ruin the social life experience. In some cases, being completely or partially sober does in fact change it for the better. Mornings, especially those on the weekend, gain a new lease of life and you’ll finally have a fighting chance at making every one of those 9am seminars.

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