Staying sober in the club

- in In English, Porträttet

Life as a student is often filled with partying and late nights at nation’s clubs. A social culture where alcohol often is an integral part. Lundagård has met one of Lund’s students who refrains from drinking but still is a fixture on the nation club circuit.

Tom Burger is a young Dutchman full of energy who moved to Lund to study his master’s degree in September 2023. When looking for a degree in Human Ecology, he stumbled upon Lund University and decided it was going to be his new home. In a nightlife landscape often awash with alcohol-fueled dramas, Tom stands out as a beacon of sobriety. His journey through Lund’s vibrant social scene unveils a refreshing take on fun without the liquid courage. From his infectious energy on the dance floor to his keen observational wit, Tom navigates the chaos of clubs with a sharp eye for comedy and a heart set on respect. He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since he was 15.

– I love running around in clubs. I’m sober but I’m the drunk friend who goes on a side quest.

On a Wednesday night, Tom invites me for dinner and drinks with a good friend of his. The door opens to a tall and smiling guy who welcomes me warmly at his friend’s house. The pair is getting ready to go to Västgöta’s (VG’s) tonight, a night out that seems to have become a tradition. Both of them are trying on outfits and discussing the plan for tonight.

– Almost every Wednesday so far, I’ve gone to VG’s. I love it, I don’t have to wait for the weekend to party, Tom says.

Partying and dancing is a major part of Tom’s life to say the least. Here in Lund, with all the nations, he’s thriving.

– I pay four euros to get into a club and you can just go. You know you’re gonna run into familiar people.

He proceeds to tell me how much he loves his new life here, saying that it has been really chill and that he feels that everything here has a low threshold making him feel quite at peace.

– In the Netherlands there’s nothing happening before midnight, so it feels like a lot of waiting sometimes. Drugs are also way more normal in the Netherlands. I don’t think I’ve seen drugs here which is really refreshing.

I can even party during the week and function the day after.

Tom has a vibrant social life. He met a lot of his friends during the orientation week at the beginning of the year but also through his volleyball team and his program.

He met his best friend at a Smålands party. He saw her in the queue and complimented her outfit. They met again later in the club and danced together. At the end of the night they exchanged Instagram’s and have not been separated since. He tells me that this is not an isolated example, he  has met many people in the basement of Lund’s nations. Being sober has in that sense never been an issue.

– I’ve seen how it can go wrong for people and I had a deal with my parents that if I didn’t drink or smoke until I was 17 then they would pay for my driver’s license. So that made me ask myself  ”is that something I want?” So at the age of 15 I decided I was never gonna drink.

Alcohol isn’t the only substance Tom stays away from. Hard drugs or marijuana are also out of the question. However, Tom explains to me that if he were to try something one day it certainly wouldn’t be alcohol but weed:

– I’ve never seen anyone become aggressive under the influence of weed whereas I can’t say the same for alcohol.

He adds that marijuana is legalized in the Netherlands, so it’s certainly not as stigmatized as it is in Sweden. Today, Tom still does not feel like he needs substances to enjoy his nights out.

– I already have many qualities that a lot of people need to get drunk for. I love talking to strangers, going new places, dancing, I don’t need alcohol to make dumb decisions, he says.

It’s apparent that Tom communicates energetically, injects humor into conversations, and responds to questions with the familiarity of an old friend, suggesting that social anxiety isn’t a concern for him. I asked him how he maintains his energy levels when fatigue sets in but he still wants to continue partying.

– When I’m tired and the plans are there I’ll pull up and the atmosphere gives me energy. But if I have not confirmed I’ll just not show up and stay in.

This seems to be the very thing that motivates Tom to go out: people. And the party culture here in Lund is particularly accommodating to him, he says.

– I love that the parties here are from 10 to 2, I’m in bed at 2.30 am and have time to do my skincare. I wake up at 11 with eight beautiful hours of sleep. I can even party during the week and function the day after.

Tom enjoys the contrast between the nightlife in Lund and his home in the Netherlands, appreciating the absence of drugs and the early start to parties. Photo: Neo Wikman

Curious about his commitment to sobriety as a young student, I wondered: How is it to party in Lund while staying sober?

– It’s so funny. I see people falling over and I laugh so much. Being aware is also making me look out for people, especially girls. Checking if everyone’s okay. I also love observing and seeing how things play out.

Tom laughs and tells me that when people tell him ”they’re not drunk enough to dance” he finds it quite lame. For his part, he loves it.

However, being one of the only sober people in a whole club can also have some downsides.

– It’s sometimes also annoying. People don’t know how much space they take up when they’re drunk.

Navigating sobriety in Western societies presents unique challenges. Given the prevalence of drinking culture, I wondered if Tom has encountered any unusual reactions or felt pressured to partake in alcohol culture despite his choice to abstain.

– It was very much like ’oh you dont wanna do it, okay’. Since I’m a student and people have to pay for their own stuff, I guess they’re okay with not spending more money.

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. We’ve all observed or participated in those tender, alcohol-infused kisses tucked away in the corner of the dance floor. While making memories with friends is a noble reason for partying, it’s also a place for flirting and other more or less romantic amusements. So I could not help but ask.

How’s flirting at parties while being sober?

Tom smiles and looks at his hands for a second before answering.

– I used to have a rule that I don’t make out with anyone who’s drunk because I don’t know how much it impacts your decision making, so I’m big on consent. But if I have an established connection with someone it could be okay. But most of the time I just tell them that I’d love to but they’re drunk and that they can call me again when they’re sober.

In this context, the absence of alcohol does not diminish all the flirty fun of the dancefloor. Here amidst the pulsating beats of pop music, making connections take on a different, perhaps more deliberate tone. It is not about succumbing to the haze of substances; it is about clear communication and mutual respect.

– Often in clubs I flirt and I have a lot of fun but that’s it. Last week was the first time I made out in the club in Lund and it was with someone who only had one beer and that I’ve known for a really long time.

In Tom’s world, the party doesn’t need a splash of spirits to reach a fever pitch – just good vibes and perhaps a dash of sparkling water.