We hung out with the High on Life society: The Sussex students turning their backs on drink and drugs

Who needs drink and drugs to have a good time?


Last week, we at The Tab Sussex partook in our very own lecture drinking game. This week, we turned our backs to tinnies and looked towards coffee cups and chit chat on a sober social with the High on Life society – a group of students bored of the debauchery associated with societies at university, who want to meet other people on a sober basis.

The society is brand new; founded this summer after creator Kelly-Mae Pitcher felt a sense of isolation among non-drinking and drug-taking students. She, and other members of the group, feel that university societies encourage drinking which is not an effective way to connect with other people. They say the High on Life society offers a change to the binge-drinking culture at university.

The society was initially rejected by the SU, a decision which was subsequently appealed. By the time freshers' fair rolled around, they had received 200 emails stating interest.

We decided to join them on their 'cafe crawl social' which took us on a quaint coffee shop circuit around central Brighton, starting at the station and finishing up on the beach.

Upon arriving at the meeting place we had to be divided into two groups of 15 as the attendance was slightly higher than expected. We took off to the first cafe with our group and crammed ourselves in. Once the initial nerves of soberly meeting new people had faded, we found that communication actually came quite naturally.

The group were incredibly friendly and outgoing, and we quickly warmed to each of them. After some chit chat, we discovered that a lot of people in the group were in fact occasional drinkers, but chose to join the society as an alternative to the often 'boring' alcohol-centric socials that take place during the week. Others drank very irregularly after bad experiences of alcohol and drugs.

Kelly later explained to us that the ethos of the group is based around a lack of judgement towards others. No one minds if you do or don't drink outside the socials, but during the events there is a strict no drink or drugs policy.

While sampling the cakes at Marwoods, we started having quite a serious conversation with Kelly about the group, sobriety, and drinking culture.

She had quit drinking last year after a string of negative experiences. She explained how sobriety allowed her to connect on a much deeper level with people, and how she doesn't believe that 'drinking friends' are true friends.

She formed this opinion after watching people in her past getting drunk together, and lacking a real bond when sober. A few other members chipped in and explained how clubbing was the worst way to meet new people. How can you chat to people, or even your friends, when music is blaring over your conversation?

We began talking about the reason why people drink – a question we struggled to provide an answer for that didn't reflect poorly on ourselves. Confidence? Elevating a good mood? Alleviating a bad mood? It gave us plenty to chew over. But here we were, on a sober social, meeting lots of lovely new people, and it didn't feel all that bad.

After Marwoods, we headed down to the beach where the two groups were reunited. It was clear that a lot of bonds had been formed as people sat around in large groups chatting away. We were surprised to learn that this was only their second social, because so many seemed to be friends already.

Looking to the future, plenty more socials have been organised, including: laser tag; a trip to the Seven Sisters; a graffiti workshop; and a still life class.

If you think this is something you'd like to be part of, you can stay up to date with the group here.