The Only Sober Apple in a Drunk Barrel

As a University of Toronto student, I spend almost all of my free time studying. My weekends generally consist of sitting straight from Thursday night (as I have Fridays off) until Sunday night, at my desk, immersed in hundreds of pages of readings, essays, tests and assignments. I always feel like I am drowning (although, in reality, I’m generally working about a week ahead) and typically, my family sees me on the weekend for no more than about 3 hours (all the fragmented times put together), despite the fact that I live and study at home.

Not surprisingly, then, I look forward to the social events hosted by university students. It is a great opportunity to reconnect with friends, relieve a bit of stress and meet new people. Its nice to get out of the house, and spend an evening in one of the most vibrant cities – downtown Toronto

I seem to have a recurring problem, however, which discourages me from attending university social events.

A snapshot of the majority of my social experiences at university go like this:

  1. You attend an organized social event (lets say, hosted by a student club, at a pub) with good friends. You’re having a great time – meeting new people, eating great food.
  2. Alcohol is served. Drinks are passed around.
  3. 7 minutes go by.
  4. You notice that your discussion companion starts giggling at everything you say, even when it isn’t funny.
  5. The music gets louder. You start to yell over the noise to keep your conversation going.
  6. People start to bump into you every 45 seconds. You start to suspect the room has begin to shrink.

Suddenly, your throat is sore from yelling, your head is pounding because of the music, and  you are doubting your own sobriety – not because you’ve had anything to drink, but the people who have been talking with you have such a strong alcoholic breath, you suspect you might be tipsy off of their breathing. Suddenly, you have a hangover, and you haven’t drunk anything!

I get caught in this situation every time! Its a bit like the person who is too drunk at a classy banquet dinner where no one else is even tipsy – except, its the inverted. I’m the only sober person at a raging, drunken, university event, and I become the complete odd ball. Coherent conversation – the only thing left to amuse me – is almost impossible.

This post is not, in any way, to criticize those who drink. I choose not to drink for personal reasons – for religious reasons, health reasons, etc. but that bears no relevance on other people’s habits. Unfortunately, I tend to find that social events for university students which provide alcohol (in essence, every event) fail to really consider how the sober kid feels. Rumour has it, a diet coke is not half as fun as a martini!

Its a very frustrating position – you can feel very alienated when you don’t drink, and pressured to “just try one sip”. Its very difficult to have any sort of social life, because you get caught in the criticism, “why are you so uptight?!” or “loosen up, have a good time”. To be honest, I start to dread social events which I know I have to attend.

Okay, so what can you do when you get caught in this situation?

Bring a Sober Buddy: While so far, I haven’t found this to be effective, most ‘soberees’ swear to bringing a buddy to a social event. Not only do you have a common ally drinking diet coke instead of out of the the bouquet of booze, but you have someone to not laugh with you when the non-funny jokes are amusing to the ‘tipsies’.  Most important to remember, don’t let a friend who says they will only drink one glass be your sober buddy. Even if they are your best friend and they stick through thick and thin with you, the alienating experience starts the moment they take a sip. Invite a friend who is really going to be sober!

Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Early: Some people have no trouble being sober at a drinkfest – but if you are like me, the mock hangover as illustrated above is enough to have you in and out of the event in an hour. If this is a common experience for you, then expect it to happen and prep your friends for it while they are sober. That way, you don’t have to attempt to excuse yourself a million times as they beg you to stay, bestowing alcholic breath on you. Make up an excuse to leave – and depending on how drunk they are, your excuse can range anywhere from “I have a paper due tomorrow” to “I need to go fight in World War II”. Trust me, both work. 🙂

Prep to for the Event in Advance: Sometimes you get caught somewhere, like a work holiday party, or interestingly, a work interview dinner (as my best friend attended, noted as the only person not drinking) and you simply can’t leave early. There is no need to panic – be prepared to attend the event and order something safe – like ginger ale. Be confident in your decision, and have a good time.

Find the “Sober Club”: There are a multitude of campus events which are void of alcohol, or at least, alcohol at minimalistic level  – film screenings, theatre and movie viewings, recreational sports, guest speakers, etc. Try to put yourself in a social situation where you won’t feel uncomfortable with who you are. Getting involved with student clubs that don’t involve alcohol can make it easier to connect with friends. Try to attend events where, even if there is alcohol, there might be other things to focus on – such as a band playing, or a sports game. If the focus is alcohol (lets say, at a pub), then your uncomfortable feeling may become magnified as drinks are ordered around the table and you are the only one drinking club soda and a lime.

Don’t Let Other People Poop your Party!: I tend to notice that even when I am enjoying myself just fine, people around me don’t seem to enjoy themselves when I’m not drinking – a concept that simply baffles me. Don’t let other people make you feel like the party-pooper for not drinking, and don’t let them tell you what to do. Enjoying a party – meeting new friends, stepping out from the cocoon of academic, and having a good time can all occur without drinking.

I write this post fresh off of leaving a student event held at a pub, as I spent the evening awkwardly smushed in the middle of a round booth with 3 students drinking on my left, and 4 students drinking on my left. (Let me tell you, it was almost impossible to get out of that booth!) I really do understand that horrible, uncomfortable feeling, but I hope it remains backed up with pride for staying sober, and making a choice that is right for you. I hope that the above tips can help you (and me!) to be confident and comfortable in an situation of assorted alcohols.

Don’t be afraid to experience an event alcohol-free … the next morning, you’ll remember what happened!


Surviving Studenthood


19 responses

  1. […] through the awkward moments of “studenthood.” For example, one of my favourite posts, The Only Sober Apple in a Drunk Barrel (a play on the phrase “there’s one bad apple in every barrel…”), recounts a […]


    1. Haha, Sarah, I am delighted to have a fellow student experiencing the non-drunken trials and tribulations of being sober. Isn’t it strange how few events are alcohol-free at U of T? It makes me sad!

  3. I know!! its all about club nights and pub crawls!! and everything “fun” is after 9.00 pm! Not cool UofT not cool. there should be a fun sober club with movie nights, ice skating (cant do that drunk!), dinners, lunches etc. with fun people who don’t need alcohol to be fun.

    1. Haha! So true! Drunk ice skating would result in a lot of tumbling, bruising, skate-slashing and blood! (It might be fun to watch, but not fun to do!)

      I agree with your comment above – there should be a Sober Student Club – something in which we “soberees” can feel safe in a alcohol-free zone, rather than how I usually feel – like part of a slowly extinct species (one of the few people left who don’t drink). I find this to be a common problem with university events!

      But for me, what is most upsetting of all is when I attend an event that it not only student-run, but organized by a student club that is representative of students (for example ASSU – Arts and Science Student Union and their sub-clubs, like CRIMSA – the Criminology Student Association) and they organize an event at a pub.

      I am unhappy to see that my fees went into paying for an event which I couldn’t benefit from, and worse, went into an event where someone else took my fees and spent it on alcohol.

      For me personally, I want my fees to be used more responsibly. Don’t get me wrong – I whole heartedly support social events hosted by ASSU and CRIMSA. I just feel that when clubs take memberships from students, or use fees as part of funding, hundreds or even $1000(+) dollars – yes, these are realistic numbers! – are used …. (dare I say it outloud?!)….irresponsibly and improperly.

      ((Ahh, now a new set of feelings have developed about this topic… although I do try to keep an upbeat tone in my blog post, somehow, the comments section manages to withdraw a more passionate view of my feeling… LOL, which is a common problem for bloggers that I discuss in my (Ugly) Betty Blogging Boom post!))

      Perhaps, I feel too strongly about the issue. I’m sure some of my friends who enjoy the pub nights and meet new people would tell me to lighten up….

      What do you think?

      1. OMG! I so agree with you guys! Sober events can be great fun and perhaps even more fun because you actually know what you’re doing! lol

        And yes, our fees should go towards something more productive, and that everyone can benefit from! I guess we all just need to hang on for now….or maybe….we can start a club of our own…….hehehe

        1. Hey Meimei!

          I’m so glad someone agrees with me – many students feel comfortable with having their fees spent at pub night.

          We should start a sober club! Because, if we just hang on, four years of undergrad degree could disappear without us having really enjoyed social events alcohol-free!

          1. Yeah, I guess you’re right! We just need to come up with something interesting now! Maybe I’ll see you at one of those clubs! 😛

  4. Hello, nice site. I look forward to your next topic. Thanks, Julie

  5. I would like to thank you for your good work on this blog. We are also working on our blog and I have already bookmarked some of your posts. Peter

  6. This post is great! Being the “party sober” friend like you, I surprisingly never thought to write about this issue or find someone who had! Like you, I do not criticize those who choose to drink and I totally get the “not laugh” at the jokes, lol. What about a follow up article on when we’re designated drivers? 🙂

    In regards to paragraph one, your description of the Thursday to Sunday butt-glued-to-chair homework experience totally describes my first year of university! Just add in the regular Friday and Saturday night hang outs.

    Very brilliant topic, very amusing experiences we have had! Thanks so much! I was thoroughly excited to read this article 🙂 Thank Fariya from

    1. Hey Missy!

      Thanks for your comment. Fariya and I are good friends, and it doesn’t surprise me she referred you to my post – she is the one who gave me the idea to write about it in the first place. Her persistent complaints about university events always serving alcohol, and what it is like to be the only sober person, got me thinking.

      In addition, you make such a great point about the designator driver issue! Arg, soberees must always saddle up as the driver. While I dislike like option, I’d rather not sit in the back seat and let a DUI – or worse – occur because I let a tipsy friend drive.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! Can you think of other topics students might relate to, that I can write about?

      Surviving Studenthood

  7. Well, after careful consideration I’m going to start a group on campus this Fall! =)
    My group is going to be the official group for Roots & Shoots Canada (part of The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada), not sure if you’ve heard of it…haha…The mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs; to inspire each individual to take action to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment! Currently trying to figure out how to recruit members……any ideas?

    1. Hey Meimei!

      Thanks for your comment. We are delighted you are starting a club. In response to your question about recruiting new members, we decided to write you a specialized post. Check it out, and feel free to leave any questions or comments for us.

      Post: How Can I Promote My University Club?



      Surviving Studenthood

  8. […] great comment/question was left on our humourous post “The Only Sober Apple in a Drunk Barrel” and we thought other students may be interested in our answer. If you are starting a new […]

  9. I wanted to validate how amazing it is that you are staying clean and sober while you are in school. It takes alot of determination and dedication to keep a clean head while your in school and you are all so strong for being able to do that. It will only benefit you in the future. Keep it up, you’re doing great and remember how strong you are for staying away from drugs

    1. Hey Andrea,

      Thanks for your comment!

      It is kind of you to provide words of encouragement – It is important for students to stay healthy, and to indulge only a little. And I agree – drugs are not an area for students to dabble in, ever! The benefit in the future is clear. 🙂

      1. this comment is a little late considering the date of the post, but i just found it today and just had to leave a comment. you described exactly the story of my life! i try so hard to enjoy myself at events when everyone around me is drunk but sometimes it’s just so hard and not fun. at least i know i’m not alone 🙂

        1. Hey Sam!

          Comments are never too late 🙂

          I’ve been having such a problem with this issue; I tend to feel very left out at pubs or university events, particularly when I go to an academic event and alcohol is served. Have you ever noticed how many course unions serve drinks at their events? My tuition went into a $1200 bill the group rang up… ouch!

          Hopefully, some of the tips above can help make it a little easier to be yourself while letting others enjoy themselves. The post isn’t about denouncing drinking – its about trying to find a way for soberees to enjoy events as much as others do…

          Maybe there is a tip we haven’t considered? All readers thoughts are welcome!

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