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Opinion | Sober curiosity could be worthwhile for students

Bristol University’s, perhaps dangerous, reputation for drugs and intense partying could be improved with the rise of sober curiosity amongst students.

By Aimee Anderson, Politics and International Relations, Second Year

University is stereotypically the home of curiosity – where teenagers, fresh out of school, come to a new city, try new things, and find themselves in the process. Bristol University’s reputation for drugs and intense partying would suggest that these would be likely subjects of experimentation. Freshers Week sees empty vodka bottles stack up on kitchen windows. Intense sporting socials often turn freshly eighteen- or nineteen-year-olds into students who can sink a pint, or even a bottle of wine at impressive – or alarming – speed. However, the seeds of the counter-revolution seem to be sprouting. Sober curiosity, as it is known, is trending. But should we be paying attention?

As someone who found alcohol and partying to be a source of anxiety in the first months of university, it felt as though socialising at university, at least in first year, was centred on alcohol, drugs, and nights out in La Rocca or Motion. To tell someone you weren’t drinking or going out was to be met with judgement. It felt impossible at times to truly enter the university social scene without drinking. In the midst of the typical stress of settling into university life, it felt like my only option was to spend my evenings in my room alone.

My personal experience is merely a consequence of culture. At Bristol University, and many others, it is one of a toxic normalisation of extensive alcohol and drug use, where indulgence goes without question. Despite the occurrence of sober socials, the true university experience is still dominated by visions of this culture. Those who immerse themselves in it may find themselves in murky waters, where their substance use begins to negatively impact their social and academic lives, along with their mental health. If you have ever walked this tightrope and tried to reduce your alcohol intake as a result, odds are you have been met with demoralising remarks that you are 'boring' or 'uncool'.

Photo by Ben Dutton on Unsplash

Nevertheless, the opportunities for sober socialising at university are there – and they’re growing. At Bristol, the SU runs numerous sober freshers’ events; yoga society often runs sober coffee and jewellery making socials; and the Caledonian society offers the opportunity to reel and socialise every Sunday for a couple of hours.

However, when we mention these alternatives, we often ignore mentioning the challenging reality of choosing them. We need to recognise the difficulty that often comes with embracing sober socialising from both a personal point of view and with respect to the attitudes of others. When you’re going against the grain, you are often doing so alone. That takes courage. This courage is at the crux of sober curiosity.

The true message which should be taken from the so-called trend of sober curiosity is that it is about your individual journey. At its heart, sober curiosity is about self-reflection. It is about asking yourself if your drinking habits are always healthy. It is about asking yourself whether you truly enjoy the oppressive drinking culture permeating our society. It is about truly considering what you want. And it is about having the bravery to act on your responses to those questions. It is from this point only that the collective discussion can begin, and culture can start to change.

A culture of sober curious individuals does not necessarily mean a culture of sobriety. This movement merely recognises that addiction is not a world of black and white. It allows sobriety to be a shade of grey too. It means finding balance. You can enjoy a glass of wine and a little boogie, but it shouldn’t cost you. You should be able to indulge in other experiences too. You should be able to have big flat dinners and surfing trips, picnics and long walks in the hills. After all, isn’t it more exciting to have a plethora of experiences to reminisce on throughout the decades? Don’t you want to look back at your youth and know you followed your own path rather than getting swept up in the tide? A curious lifestyle means a constant searching for new experiences. You might not like all of them, but there’s a good chance they could change you for the better.

Featured Image: Vinicius "amnx" Amano/ Unsplash

Are you tempted to ditch the drink and explore more of Bristol's sober activities? Do you think sober curiosity is beneficial for students across the city? Get in touch @epigrampaper