High on Life: Dry January Without a Dry Social Life

Have you made it to the end of Dry January but you’re not over being sober? Or maybe you’re looking for a new society to join this Refreshers? Read about LUU’s new society who are serving up pints of fun with a shot of something different.

In the final year of university, Alice Young made the controversial decision to stop drinking alcohol. While this was initially prompted by medical reasons, it has proved to be an interesting personal experiment to see the effects on her mental health and wellbeing. There is often an enormous pressure at university for socialising to involve alcohol. However, a brand-new society has been established which provides non-alcohol socials. Alice sat down with the President of High on Life, Emily Coombs, to hear what they’re offering students at Leeds.

What inspired you to start a non-drinking society?

I don’t drink myself and I know that it would have helped me if there was a non-drinking society, especially during my first year at university. Freshers’ week is already an incredibly stressful time but having to tell your new flatmates that you don’t want to drink can be really intimidating, and can make Freshers’ week isolating.

Obviously now I am confident in my choice not to drink, but if there was a university-backed group of people also doing the same thing, I would have found that confidence a lot more quickly.

I didn’t realise Leeds was such a big night out before I arrived in first year, I now think of Leeds as having a massive drinking and drugs culture. It is often one of the first things people comment on when I say I study at Leeds, which shows the reputation it has and how hard it might be for someone who might not want to take part in it.

Do you think there is a problem associated with society initiation ceremonies and excessive drinking?

From my personal experiences there were certain societies, mainly sports ones, which I felt like I could never join because I wouldn’t get involved in the alcohol-based socials. Of course, I understand that some people choose to drink and that will always play a part in society events, but I do think it is a problem if people feel they can’t get involved without drinking excessively.

Do you think more could be done to have non-alcohol focused events at university?

I do think there has been progress in the last few years in introducing more alcohol-free events, but I still think we could do more. An NUS survey found that 20% of students don’t drink alcohol and it doesn’t seem like they are being represented in the events being held at university. There is such a stereotype about students enjoying drinking that it can put pressure on some people to drink, and I think that is a problem. It doesn’t make sense to me that during a time when people are trying to make new friends they should be discouraged from being themselves even if it includes not drinking.

What interest have you had in the society?

This all started with printing off some posters, putting them up around uni and hoping for the best! LUU needs 25 students to want to join before they will consider any new societies, so that was my big goal; I was fully expecting to have to persuade my friends to sign up, but luckily it wasn’t the case.

Now there are 160 members on the Facebook page and half of those have signed the official petition to start the society. I’m so grateful for such a positive response and it makes me more determined to make the society official.

What events do you plan to hold throughout the year?

Unlike some societies, High on Life doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a specific activity since it is more about creating a community of likeminded people. We see ourselves having regular drop-in sessions where people can make connections, as well as one-off activity evenings promoting alcohol-free activities such as baking, yoga, board games and sign language. We would love to hold film nights, quizzes and maybe a rival to the classic pub crawl, with cake crawls, or café crawls! We have also talked about holding a “clubbing in the day” event where there is no alcohol, no late night but still the fun of going out with friends.

Where do you see the society going in future years?

My hopes for the society are that it grows in size and gains a reputation for great, alternative events. I think having a society like this, which does already exist in a lot of other universities, will send a message that there is a place for everyone at Leeds, even if you don’t want to drink alcohol. Although the society is mainly for people that don’t drink, I hope that as we grow in size, we can reach more people that just want the occasional break from drinking and encourage a discussion about the drinking culture at university across the board.

You can get involved with the society by joining their Facebook group named ‘High on Life – Uni of Leeds’.

If you have concerns regarding alcohol then check out targetted advice on the LUU website, Drinkaware’s Freshers’ Guide, organisations like Forward Leeds, Addiction Dependency Solutions (ADS). and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or call Drinkline on 0800 917 8282.

Alice Young