Booze Britain No More: The Students Giving Up Alcohol

Why Have Some Students Decided To Go Tee-Total?

The phrase "Booze Britain" has become synonymous with images of students stumbling out of clubs, photographs that end up plastered across tabloid pages as a sign of society in decline.

While getting drunk seems to have become a rite of passage for teenagers and young adults, there are those who have shunned the bottle and opted for a life of sobriety.

And, according to a new study, there are more tee-totallers than you might think.

The study, conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found many students feel under pressure to drink alcohol and are angered by the media's "negative and distorted" portrayal of young people as heavy binge drinkers.

Mariana Bayley, one of the authors of the study, said she was surprised at the number of non-drinkers.

"When we began recruiting young people who didn’t drink at all or very little for our research we thought we were in for a long haul. How wrong we were!

"There were more of these young people around than we had imagined and this is indicative of the way false assumptions are shaped by media stereotypes."

Among the various reasons cited for not drinking, or cutting down on drinking, was seeing the effects of alcohol first hand - particularly in their own neighbourhoods. A number of the young people surveyed anonymously, who were aged between 16 and 25, reported having neighbours with alcohol problems, leading to antisocial behaviour.

Young woman - light drinker:

"So like after seeing the influence on the area, I didn’t need my mum and dad to sit down and be like okay these are the effects of alcohol, blah, blah, you’d just see it and it’s like 'Mum why is this person like this?', 'Because he’s had too much alcohol' and you were like 'okay'.

"You don’t need to ask any more questions about that because you just know if you drink alcohol, whatever the alcohol was, you didn’t know what alcohol was at that time, you just thought alcohol was the be all and end all, not that person drinks vodka or that person drinks JD, if a person drinks alcohol then you end up like this.

"And so you kind of think okay so I’m not going to drink alcohol … If you see it in person it sticks in your mind more than someone telling you because it could just go in through one ear and go out the other – 'Okay Mum, thanks Mum, anyway blah, blah, blah', sort of thing. But when you see it, it’s more visual than it is just listening to it."

One identifiable theme for not drinking was down to having parents and relatives who were good role models. Many non or light drinkers felt their parents would be disapproving if they started drinking heavily.

Young woman - light drinker:

"That look of disappointment, that look of shame, to say 'I didn’t raise you like this, why are you acting like this for?' I think that plays in my mind every time I go out … I don’t want my parents to see me like this because that is not the way they brought me up."

Another said:

"The way they handle it is very good. Especially if me or my younger brother are around they’ll make sure that they don’t have anywhere near as much to get them tipsy or drunk. They will make sure they have one glass of wine to relax, to enjoy and that’s it."

Young man - light drinker

Most of the respondents - 52 in total - said their friends' drunken behaviour too often became annoying or tedious towards the end of the night, and even found the lack of self control frightening.

Young man – non-drinker:

"I couldn’t really understand why they would want to be out of control of their own selves, because that is what I saw is that they lost their inhibitions and their ability to make rational judgements, you know careful decisions in their physical relationships and things like that with other people. The fact that they couldn’t get through a door and things like that because they’d walk into the side of the door – why would you want to do that, I don’t know. I don’t see that as fun."

Although many of the students had witnessed alcohol consumption firsthand, the media representations of drinking reinforced their attitudes towards alcohol use. They questioned the representations of what they called "sensational" news coverage of underage and teenage drinking, and features on drunken behaviour by Britons abroad.

The students raised concerns about the stereotyping of all young people and felt the "alarmist and morally disapproving" tone of the accounts was to boost media sales or viewing figures. One girl said she felt "there is pressure to drink alcohol in the media everywhere" while another felt it was her peers, and even her parents, applying the pressure:

"They said, 'Come on, it’s New Year, you should drink just a little bit of champagne.' So I was forced to drink it, just to celebrate because everybody drinks champagne for New Year. Like my Mum and my Dad said 'you should drink'."

Young woman – former drinker

Although there is undoubtedly an issue with alcohol consumption - NHS reported four fifths of young people drink alcohol and 89% drink more than one unit a week - there are certainly many young people who realise alcohol might not be all it's cracked up to be.


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