Natalie Neagu has never experienced a wild, drunken high school party. Her high school was all about academics, and centred on math and sciences. Now, as a first-year creative industries student, bars and clubs aren’t her scene.
“I kind of feel uncomfortable in any situation that ha[s] a lot of alcohol,” she said. “In general, I’m just like, ‘You know what? I’m better off without it.’”
Plus, she doesn’t like the taste of any alcohol she’s tried. “I’m perfectly happy just drinking water,” she said.
Neagu isn’t alone. This idea of college and university social life revolving around alcohol is common, but there are students at Ryerson who choose not to drink and have found ways to have fun and socialize without alcohol.
Ryerson isn’t considered as much of a “party school” as many other universities in Canada. A Maclean’s survey from late 2018 found, on average, the number of hours per week Canadian students partied was three. Ryerson’s average is 2.7 hours.
According to a Ryerson student-health assessment from 2016, 17.4 per cent of students have never consumed alcohol, while 21.6 per cent of students who had socialized or “partied” in the last 12 months would choose not to drink alcohol, either most of the time or always.
Krystal Valentine is a co-ordinator at Residence Case Management with Ryerson. For the past week, she’s been a part of running Ryerson’s #14DaysDry campaign, which educates students about the risks of abusing substances like alcohol or other drugs, and ways to consume responsibly and lead healthier lives.
Students can participate by abstaining from alcohol and other substances for 14 days. This is optional, and isn’t a requirement in order to participate in other #14DaysDry activities.
Valentine said that for those who want to stop or cut down on drinking, she suggests that students avoid alcohol-centric events where there may be more pressure to drink.
“A lot of it is around finding opportunities for you to relax and take care of yourself that don’t involve alcohol, so maybe that is going to a fitness class at the RAC, or maybe that’s going for a walk, or going out for dinner with folks,” she said.
She said it’s important to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your lifestyle choices. “If you’re with people that pressure you to drink, or judge you for that, or are constantly questioning your reasoning, it’s a lot more difficult to hold on to that value that you might have, or that challenge you’re trying to complete for yourself,” she said.
Sadat Ahmed, a third-year Ryerson student in financial mathematics, has never drank. The main reason is because he’s Muslim and consuming alcohol is a sin in Islam. However, he also doesn’t want to.
“Once you drink too much, when you’re having fun and you’re drinking, I feel like you’ll lose the ability to have fun without drinking,” he said. “I’ve just never relied on drinking when it comes to having fun.”
Ahmed likes to do casual dinners with friends, visits to Centre Island, social events with student groups, or things on campus. Places his friends like to go include Bar + Karaoke Lounge on Yonge Street, and the Rec Room near Union Station.
Neagu is part of Delta Phi Nu, a “dry” sorority. “We can’t be the ones bringing alcohol to events, and for the first hour at any event, we can’t drink,” she said. After the first hour, their members can drink. Neagu said she spends a lot of time with her sorority sisters, hanging out or hosting charity events.
She’s also explored many different places in the city. “One of my favourite places has been Snakes and Lattes. I usually like to go with a couple friends and just enjoy a coffee while relaxing with a board game.”
Snakes and Lattes is one of many board game cafés that have boomed in popularity over the past several years. Each have an extensive library of board games, and serve food and beverages.
Sophie Shin is a manager at Snakes and Lattes in The Annex neighbourhood, near the University of Toronto. Shin said students frequent the board game café all days of the week, and only half the time do they end up drinking.
“People come here and they have a kind of excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle of what Toronto can be,” she said. “I would say it’s like more of a calm vibe, like you’re in your living room with your friends.”
The board games, like alcohol, help get conversations started. “It kind of gives an activity where you’re still talking to people, you’re still social, you can break the ice really well with people you don’t know, or it can just become a really fun memory with any of your friends.”
Valentine said since the #14DaysDry campaign began five years ago, things have slightly changed. “We’re not seeing as many intoxicated students,” she said, based on the observations of herself, students she works with and Ryerson staff.
Ahmed said he understands that different people make different choices about how to spend their time. But to him, there’s far more to life than drinking.
“There’s a lot of ways to have a good time and have fun,” he said, “such as getting a goal in soccer, or getting a good grade, or spending time with people you love [or] building bonds.”