Sobriety, sports and socials- is teetotalism possible at Durham?

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University is a difficult place for those who don’t drink. Many societies, especially at Durham, revolve around a drinking culture, with pub crawls, pint chops and alcoholic forfeits commonplace. Due to a busy schedule in my final year, and sick of losing days to hangovers, I decided to give teetotalism a try this term.

I knew the biggest insight would be whether my social life suffered. As a proud member of my college football team, I approached our first social of the year with some trepidation, wondering what the reception would be. To my surprise, when I told my social sec, he simply shrugged his shoulders and business continued as usual.

I had a great time. Fortunately, I was able to fully make the most of the social and catch up with many people who I hadn’t seen since the previous year. And best of all, I was in bed before the clock struck midnight, ready to wake up nice and early to get started with a summative.

Barring the odd comment from a tipsy teammate, no-one seemed to care. I remember one mate asking me whether I thought less of the team after seeing them on a night out through a sober lens, but I honestly thought they were just as friendly, chatty and welcoming as they are any other time.

Barring the odd comment from a tipsy teammate, no-one seemed to care

Interestingly, the biggest pressure to drink came from casual nights in the pub with a couple of friends. One such person even bought me a Guinness to try and tempt me back. However, when I politely refused and passed it on to someone else, the evening continued as normal as I sipped my lime and soda.

Which brings me on to the next benefit of sobriety — the lack of cost. Lime and soda is a criminally underrated drink on a pub crawl, especially given how cheap it is. Trevelyan bar, for example, charged me just 10p for a drink. However, consistency regarding the prices of non-alcoholic drinks on tap needs some work.

I was also charged up to 80p for the same drink at some college bars and, when I went to other Durham bars, I had to pay more for a half-pint of Coke than I would at my local pub back in London, where they serve it in the glass bottle with a wedge of lemon to boot. However, it was still cheaper than a pint or cocktail.

At a time when the cost of living in Durham is spiralling out of control, this was a welcome respite. My bank account is looking far healthier these days and budgeting has become less stressful without Woodgates littering my bank statements.

My bank account is looking far healthier these days and budgeting has become less stressful without Woodgates littering my bank statements

When meeting up with friends, coffee provided an ideal alternative, though still not cheap in Durham. Replacing alcohol with caffeine is hardly a fantastic health choice and might have contributed to my lack of sleep this term. However, that could also be due to summative stress or a freezing bedroom.

Whilst never being a particularly heavy drinker, I did notice a significant change in my health within a couple of weeks. I felt much more alert, both physically and mentally. My mind felt sharper, allowing me to put more time and effort into my degree and my work for Purple Radio. Furthermore, I felt more fit and had better game awareness when I was playing football and cricket, despite still recovering from an injury.

Do I miss clubbing in Durham? No. I didn’t even consider taking on Klute sober, regularly getting elbowed or shoved around by a rugby lad trying to prove a point. If I do go back to drinking, I doubt I will return to the clubs.

If I do go back to drinking, I doubt I will return to the clubs

However, I do miss going out for a pint or two with my mates. The odd drink could help me de-stress at a time when the work begins to pile up. Alcohol and university unfortunately do go hand-in-hand and I do feel like I have missed out a bit, being away from the drinking culture.

I can certainly see how people avoid doing sports at Durham due to the drinking culture. Whilst nobody would force a drink down your throat, you will miss out on bonding opportunities because every social occasion is spent in the pub and that needs examining. Some socials are based entirely around drinking, exacerbating the problem.

It seems strange that Durham brands itself as one of the top universities in the country for sport, when those who choose not to drink are alienated from the social side. A drinking culture at university is inevitable, but, for the large part, does not exclude teetotalists.

Image: Simon Cocks via Wikimedia Commons

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