Being sober when no one else is

During my first few weeks at uni, I found there was an expectation that a few drinks were needed to have fun. At a camp for first-year law students, all the activities and games centered around alcohol.

I had just turned 18 and, being a goody-two shoes and law-abiding citizen, had never been a drinker. It also didn’t help that I was a loner in high school and wasn’t invited to parties.

I decided to drink at law camp because, for once, I wanted to fit in and be seen as normal. To gain acceptance, I felt like I needed to do what everyone else was doing, which was to drink.

My decision not to drink or take drugs

After drinking to excess at the camp, I just ended up feeling sick. How is this supposed to be fun? I thought to myself, as I vomited into my backpack. (It was a lot closer than the toilet.)

Every other law event I attended that year also involved alcohol, and because everyone had a beer in their hand I felt pressured to do the same, despite not enjoying the taste of alcohol or the way it always made me feel sick.

So, why was I still drinking alcohol? The answer: social expectations.

Eventually, I realised that I cared more about my health than about trying to fit in. I decided I would rather drink something delicious (like a non-alcoholic lemon, lime and bitters) than give into peer pressure. I’m not saying it’s bad to drink, if you want to; it’s just not for me.

'Why aren't you drinking? Come on, just have one drink'

When I tell people I don’t drink, I often get asked why. It gets tiring having to explain myself every time, but I mostly give the real reason: ‘Because it makes me feel sick, and I don’t like the taste.’

Usually, people are understanding and don’t pressure me further to have a drink. After all, who wants to make someone do something that makes them feel sick? I find that generally when you voice your boundaries about not drinking, people respect them.

Sometimes, though, someone will persist and try to stretch my limits by simply handing me an alcoholic drink. I just say politely, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ and offer it back to them.

How I coped with saying no

At first, I felt uncool and boring for not drinking. Then, I came up with some casual responses for when people offered me alcohol, such as saying, ‘No, I’m good, thanks’ or ‘I’ve already got a drink’.

If that didn’t work, I’d say very firmly that alcohol makes me feel unwell and I’d rather drink something that I like the taste of. If they continued to pressure me to drink, I’d walk away.

It also helped to find other friends at uni who don’t drink, because being around them reminds me that it’s perfectly normal not to drink alcohol. Hanging with others who don’t drink makes me feel less like a boring ‘killjoy’ for not wanting to drink, because we have lots of fun without the aid of alcohol. I’ve remained close to friends who drink, but it’s good to have friends who don’t drink, too.

If I’m ever tempted to drink, I remind myself that I feel so much better when I don’t. It’s okay to make my own decisions. I’ve come to accept the fact that I don’t drink, and most of my friends have accepted it, too.

What can I do now?

  • Read our article on how to party and get home in one piece.

  • Learn what exactly peer pressure is.