Students

'People always told me I was boring'

These students don’t drink - ever!

Around two or three a.m. everyone around them is pretty tipsy. But Groningen students Floris, Sarah, Patricia, and Rouèl are still stober. They’re always sober. ‘I don’t want to escape like that.’
By  Sisi van Halsema / Photo Reyer Boxem

Dark ’N Stormy Mocktail

Teetotallers often find themselves limited to coke, but you can only drink so much of that before you get fed up with the taste. Next time you throw a house party and want to offer your non-drinking guests a drink that’s actually sophisticated, try making this non-alcoholic cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • Ginger Beer
  • Fresh mint
  • Lime or orange
  • Fresh ginger for some extra zest
  • Ice cubes (in summer)

Ginger, like alcohol, makes you feel nice and warm inside. You know those moments when all your beer-drinking friends are numb to the winter cold and take the party outside? This drink is your saving grace when you don’t want to imbibe, but don’t want to stay inside all alone either. It actually doesn’t matter where you drink this – it’s tasty everywhwere.

Pour the ginger beer into a glass and add a bit of lime juice (or orange juice). Thinly slice the ginger (no need to peel it first). Two slices per glass will do, but you can always add more if you like. Finish each drink with a sprig of fresh mint. Cheers!

Groningen is proud to call itself the city with the most pubs per square kilometre, the establishments luring students to their parties with the promise of free beer. But not all students drink. In fact, some of them abstain from drinking altogether.

Floris (23), a two-metre tall history student, stopped drinking four years ago. Not that he was an extreme drinker before that. In the first three months of his studies, when he still went to a university of applied sciences, he certainly explored the drinking life. But it just wasn’t for him. ‘I got the idea that a lot of people use drinking as a means of escape, from the stress of studying for example. I didn’t want to escape like that.’

Floris’ decision not to drink is closely connected to his ambitions. His extracurricular activities include chairing TEIMUN (Model United Nations), fitness, yoga, and running. He feels that drinking is a poor match with these activities. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem in his social circles – history students and TEIMUN members. ‘Whenever I tell people that I don’t drink, they have a tendency to start defending themselves. One guy started bragging that he’d drunk a whole crate of beer in a single sitting. When I told him I don’t drink, he confessed that he barely drank himself.’

Peer pressure

So peer pressure isn’t much of an issue for Floris, although occasionally someone might nag him to have a beer. The situation was much different when he studied at the university of applied sciences, when people would constantly joke about his decision not to drink. ‘Most people understand, but still I often get remarks like: “Why don’t you drink? Are you a sissy or what?” Or: “Only women and pussies don’t drink. So which one are you?”

Only women and pussies don’t drink. So which one are you?

Since she started studying international relations at the RUG, Sarah (19) has also realised the atmosphere is more open. She never felt a need to drink, while her peers all felt it was normal. ‘I was the only one of my friends not to drink in high school and people would always tell me I was boring. They felt a party was only successful if it ended with someone calling an ambulance.’

This is unsurprising to RUG associate professor of sociology Jan Dijkstra, who says there is a link between risk behaviour, which includes the use of narcotics such as alcohol, and social status. ‘Especially among young adolescents, people who engage in more risk behaviour have a higher social status’, says Dijkstra.

True to herself

But that’s exactly what Sarah doesn’t like about drinking. ‘A lot of people urge me to drink by saying it loosens you up and makes you do things you never would sober. I don’t like that idea at all.’

She still finds herself explaining why whenever she refuses a drink. People often ask her if she has some kind of disease that prevents her from drinking. Or they’ll respond by saying, ‘That must mean you do take drugs.’

But when someone simply asks why she doesn’t drink, she is glad to answer. For Sarah, the decision not to drink has to do with how she wants to experience life. She feels it’s important to stay true to herself. Once she’s made up her mind, it’s difficult to convince her otherwise.

Patricia (26) is a Groningen student with a quick wit and a no-nonsense attitude who finished her master in finance in June. She leaves no room for discussion on her decision not to drink. When people ask her about it on a night out, she’ll tell them that she’s driving or that she’s on medication that can’t be mixed with alcohol. She’s loath to explain her abstinence when everyone around her is already drunk. But when people seem genuinely interested and ask her about it outside of a social setting, she will candidly talk about her experiences.

Great show

Not drinking didn’t start out as a matter of principle for her. When she was sixteen she would regularly imbibe when she went out. But then she started taking medication that didn’t mix well with alcohol. She enjoyed staying sober and once she was done with the medication, she continued her abstinence. Patricia still enjoys going out as much as she did before. ‘I love seeing everyone get drunk. It’s a great show. And no one’s ever told me to stop being a fuddy-duddy.’

I love seeing everyone get drunk

Rouèl (20) from Groningen studies chemistry, teaches badminton, and works as a tutor and in a supermarket. He also serves on a committee for his study association. The only drug he uses is coffee, ‘because caffeine is a drug, too’, he says.

During social events, people are often surprised to hear he doesn’t drink. Interestingly enough, Rouèl has been judged more often by acquaintances of his parents than by his fellow students. His parents remain neutral on his decision. When students ask him if he wants a drink, he’ll ask for a coke and no one looks at him twice. This does mean he drinks a lot of coke, though.

Hangover

He doesn’t like the taste of alcohol and has no interest in learning how to drink, since he feels it does more damage than most people are interested in hearing about.

He’s right, too. Toxicologist and UMCG professor Daan Touw, understands why people avoid alcohol altogether. In addition to the immediate effects of nausea and a hangover, regular alcohol use can lead disruption of your blood sugar and malnutrition. Long-term effects include damage to the liver and even the Korsakoff syndrome, although they require serious alcohol use. Avoiding alcohol altogether means you won’t suffer any of these effects.

Touw advises against drinking large amounts of alcohol at one, since this can lead to losing sight of your own and other people’s boundaries.

Conforming

But for most students these two arguments – health and a loss of behavioural control – aren’t enough to stop drinking. ‘Alcohol use is so ingrained in our culture. That’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to say no’, says Dijkstra. ‘By conforming to a group’s behaviour you have a bigger chance of being accepted by that group.

Being different probably won’t make it easier to be accepted. Imagine it the other way around, where you’re with a group of people who don’t drink and you’re the only one getting drunk. That’s an embarrassing situation.’

Teetotallers are indirectly being excluded

For Floris, Rouèl, Sarah, and Patrica, not drinking is easy enough. But has their decision led to any of them being excluded from things?

It turns out none of them participated in the KEI week. Student associations aren’t very open to students who don’t drink, says Sarah. She has therefore never seriously considered joining any. ‘Teetotallers are indirectly being excluded because of the culture of drinking.’

Nasty responses

Rouèl and Floris add that at parties, everyone is usually so drunk around two or three in the morning that there’s absolutely no talking to them. ‘You’ll hear the same confusing story five times in a row.’ For them, that’s usually the signal to go home.

Do they think alcohol should be banned altogether? The teetotallers agree that it’s up to people themselves whether they want to drink. ‘Let’s just legalise everything and have people decide for themselves what they partake of’, says Rouèl.

But Sarah thinks it’s a good idea for people to try and figure out why they drink. You don’t need to drink in an effort to be accepted by your peers. You might get some nasty responses, but in the end people will respect you for sticking to your principles.

Dutch

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