Published on February 18, 2013 | by Lorelei Watt


Generation sober

Are you teetotal?

I have a confession to make: I don’t drink.

Given my age and the preoccupation in the media at large that all young people do is drink, I often feel like something of a rarity.

A sober endangered animal if you will; I look unusual and no one seems quite sure what to do with me, but to be perfectly honest I do not remember ever making a conscious decision not to drink.

I was not a heavy drinker who saw the metaphorical light neither am I part of a religion that forbids or frowns upon drinking, I just never have.

This may seem uncommon place for a young British student. Indeed, we have all seen the photos, you know, the ones that make the rounds into seemingly every paper each time fresher’s week or some other large event such as New Year comes rolling around.

Girls dressed in short dresses and high heels – despite the below freezing temperatures and icy pavements; boys throwing up on the streets, confused and bloodied by bar fights.

This is the stereotype of all young people, students in particular, drinking to excess and not knowing when to stop or say no. However, that stereotype is wrong.

The new trend

Slowly but surely a new trend is beginning to creep in amongst students and young people; teetotalism.

Put simply, more and more young people are choosing to drink less or nothing at all. This trend is backed up by research that shows the level of alcohol consumption for young people is actually falling.

A study by the NHS found that in 2003, 39 per cent of school pupils aged between 11-15 had never had a drink; in 2011 that number was 55 per cent.

In addition, the number of those aged between 16-24 who drank (in the week prior to a survey done by the Office of National Statistics) fell from 71 per cent in 1998 to 48 per cent in 2010.

“There appears to be a culture emerging of young people not buying into the drink industry’s marketing of alcohol.” Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern

The fall in the level of alcohol consumption in the past couple of years could be due to a number of factors.

The recession could play a part in that young people simply do not have the funds to spare, as well as rising student fees putting a strain on your wallet.

Falling job prospects after graduation could also be an influence – in the mad dash to get employed, there is simply no time to drink.

It could also be due to an evolvement from the boozy laddette culture of the ’90s to a healthier noughties – in which people are well versed on the benefits of going organic.

However, it is all well and good saying things are changing, but for young people there is always that fear to fit in when starting University – if they do not drink, they will be left out with no friends.

Writing on, Julia Molloy, a student at Lancaster University, says: “One of my biggest worries about going to university was other people’s reaction to the fact that I don’t drink.”

But she also writes that far from having a negative impact on her social life, being teetotal does not mean you cannot have a great time with your friends who drink.

Molloy writes to advise other teetotal students: “It’s OK to be a university student who doesn’t drink. You may not be the norm and it might be hard at first, but just think of all the bonuses that being teetotal brings – more money and less embarrassing and highly public moments.”

SU bar chic?

Many universities are adapting to more of its students choosing not to drink, whether because of personal reasons or religion.

London Metropolitan University has proposed introducing alcohol free zones for the 20 per cent of its population that are Muslim.

This is not the concern of one religious group however. Writing for Time Out London’s blog,, Pete Mercer, NUS vice president (Welfare) argues that, “The focus on Muslim students, while predictable, is a red herring. Studies show that Christian and Hindu students are as concerned about alcohol consumption on campus as Muslim ones.”

He also adds that, “For some time, changing student demographics, the rise of café culture and a desire for healthier lifestyles have seen student bars changing into juice bars and cafés with great success.”

In Aberystwyth University the local student bar had to close due to poor sales as more and more students were choosing to frequent the cafés on campus instead; their SU president, Ben Meakin, told the BBC that with the rise in tuition fees and the rise in the cost of living that many students were deciding to drink coffee during the day and forgo a night out.

In March of 2012 the National Union of Students (NUS) published a report for student unions that said there had been a decline in the popularity of student union bars.

The report also mentioned coffee shops as a ‘promising prospect’, and Cardiff Met University certainly thought so, they decided to choose a coffee bar franchise for their campus.

Teetotal celebrities

More and more celebrities are also choosing to become teetotal, and far from the alcohol and drug-soaked antics of those such as Keith Moon and Richard Burton.

These alcohol-free famous people are also role models; David Beckham, an inspiration to football (and aspiring underwear designers) and singer Katy Perry – she gave up alcohol in 2010 and told Glamour magazine, “You have to bust your a** at this which is why you don’t find me getting s**tfaced in bars… It’s so intense, it’s like you catch a rocket and you’re hanging on for dear life and you’re like, ‘Go!’”

“Studies show that Christian and Hindu students are as concerned about alcohol consumption on campus as Muslim ones.” Pete Mercer, NUS

DJ Calvin Harris is also a well-known teetotaler, giving up drink to concentrate on his chart career.

Speaking to Glamour he commented that his shows are million times better now. “If you drink, you can’t even remember if it’s a good show or not – and that’s probably for the best, because it would have been rubbish because I’d have been drunk and not made any sense.”

Other celebrities who do not drink include Daisy Lowe, David Walliams, and Kelly Osbourne – who said to Glamour: “I don’t like drinking that much as I hate throwing up and the taste of alcohol.”

Pint or Doughnut? 

Obviously excessive drinking can cause many health issues, and far from helping you to relax, or forget about a terrible day, alcohol is actually a depressant.

Also according to the NHS, drinking the equivalent of five pints a week over a year is the equivalent of eating 221 doughnuts over the same time period.

Yet society will accept that level of drinking, but shun the person who orders a slice of cake instead of drinking a glass of wine (which contains the same amount of calories).

Speaking to the BBC, Heather Caswell, of the British Nutrition Foundation, points out: “Most people would baulk at consuming a full glass of single cream, but wouldn’t think twice about a couple of pints.”


Bars and cocktail clubs in London are also cottoning onto teetotalism and now many have a mocktail list just as extensive as the cocktail menu.

Bars such as The London Cocktail Club in Goodge Street, Barrio Central in the west end and Carom in Soho all cater to the teetotal customer who still want to have a great night out with their alcohol drinking friends.

Fiona Beckett writing in the Guardian points out that, “Some restaurants now go out of their way to cater for the non-drinker and creating a best-selling adult soft drink is, of course, the Holy Grail.”

It is a gaping hole in the market in which surprisingly few have thought to exploit. And as the level of teetotalers rise, the need for an ‘adult’ soft drink will surely rise as well.

“Drinking the equivalent of five pints a week over a year is the equivalent of eating 221 doughnuts over the same time period.” NHS

In America there are many ‘dry’ counties where alcohol is not served, as such being teetotal is nothing out of the norm and many restaurants have found alternatives, one of the most common drinks with meals in America is iced tea.

In other countries there is also more of a tradition of only drinking alcohol on special occasions and finding there are many other alternative drinks to have on a night out.

In Spain, Vichy Catalan, a naturally carbonated water with a high mineral content is the drink of choice for those on a night out in a restaurant.

In Mexico, a drink called Agua Fresca (commonly flavored with hibiscus) is very popular for those socialising on a night out, a meal or a special occasion. Agua Fresca is also available to the teetotal, and non-teetotal customer in the UK with the Mexican chain restaurant Wahaca.

Noma in Copenhagen (which has been named ‘Best restaurant in the world’) has also famously has a selection of juices to match the tasting menu.

Emerging culture

The message of safe drinking may be getting through to young people in Britain.

A study done by the NHS found that there was a 21 per cent decline in those aged under 16 who needed to be hospitalised for alcohol-related conditions in 2011, compared with the previous two years.

Speaking to the Independent, Don Shenker, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “There appears to be a culture emerging of young people not buying into the drink industry’s marketing of alcohol and instead choosing to be more independent and discerning about their lifestyle.”

Speaking on the social pressures that young teetotalers can face, Shenker adds, “There are already budding groups springing up online for young people who want more from life than just speed drinking and vomiting on the way home, which is very encouraging.”

Shenker was enthused with the increasing exposure of famous people who are also well known teetotalers saying, “If young celebrities publicly give up drinking, then this could encourage the trend further.”

The tide of being the odd one out who doesn’t drink is beginning to turn. But like any movement, it will take time, and who knows if it will last.

Perhaps in a couple of years down the line some will be able to say with confidence, “I was teetotal before it was cool.”


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One Response to Generation sober

  1. Rose Slavin says:

    Hi Lorelei,
    I hope this is the best way to contact you- I’m a journalism masters student at City University and I’m running a website called teetotal which is trying to showcase a teetotal lifestyle for young Londoners.
    I really enjoyed your piece for Arts News, would you consider writing something for our website? We’d obviously profile you as a contributor and include any details you’d like.
    Let me know!
    Best wishes,
    Rose Slavin

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