Tee-total is a term traced to the Temperance movement of early nineteenth century England. Today, it is associated with spiritual cleanses or vague implications of smugness from those who prefer tea of the breakfast variety, as opposed to the Long Island one.
Regardless of its origins, tee-total carries with it a singular meaning: abstinence from alcohol. A tee-totaller does not drink “liquors of an intoxicating quality, whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine,” as ordained by Joseph Livesey, founder of the Preston Temperance Society, where tee-totalism was born.
Abstaining does not come without its difficulties. A quick Google turns up a host of ominous articles, all of which focus on the social ramifications of sobriety. ‘How to Make Friends Without Alcohol’ and ‘Things That Happen to Your Personal Life When You Get Sober’ don’t exactly suggest ‘fun times ahead.’ Socially, we may regard non-drinkers in the same vein as the constant dieters or gym junkies among us. Healthy, for sure, but at what cost?
Perhaps instead of being entirely above the influence, it would be more efficient to mitigate the damage done by the world’s most popular social lubricant. Drinking is as ingrained into our culture as technology. We have the rare ‘unplugged’ individual, but as a society we have embraced contactless cards and touchscreen capabilities. Similarly, alcohol has established itself as a social touchstone. If it can be made healthier, sobriety might not be our only option.
That said, the times are certainly changing. Far from the gin-soaked days of old London, the UK might be moving away from institutionalised alcoholism. According to a survey from UCL, 36% of 16-24 year olds in full-time education do not drink alcohol. In response to this cultural shift, several universities (Swansea, St Andrews, and Aberdeen, to name a few) now offer alcohol-free accommodation. Once again, we are directed to a slew of articles that remind us of the fact that non-drinkers are ‘shunning the usual student lifestyle.’ At the moment, tee-totalism is the counterculture.
Alcohol certainly comes with its own baggage. Aside from the cost of the drinks, we reach for our cheque books (or Monzo cards, Apple Pay, etc.) for a variety of bolt-on costs: rounds for friends, cover charges, late-night nachos or kebabs. The next morning, our energy stores depleted, we eschew work in favour of greasy sessions with Uber Eats and Netflix. There goes a sick day from work, or a wasted Sunday better spent on DIY. Alcohol is, in summary, damaging both monetarily and physically.
Today, health considerations are arguably the leading reason behind the sobriety movement.
In his excellent BBC2 documentary Drinkers Like Me, Adrian Chiles explored the health ramifications of drinking as he does normally, without cocktails or jager bombs or big nights out. In conclusion, he determined that we, as a population, are a species of functioning alcoholics, justified only because, unlike the media’s depiction of an alcoholic, we do not stumble drunk to work in the morning (at least, not every morning).
All of that considered, approximately 80% of Britons over the age of 16 drink alcohol. Around the world, alcohol consumption has increased by a whopping 70% between 1990 and 2017. As naturally social creatures, we simply love to let loose, aided by a pint of beer or glass of rosé. Tee-totalism is certainly a valid choice of lifestyle, but it is evident that the overwhelming majority of people will continue to drink. In the same way that we wear seat belts in cars, despite the danger associated with driving, it would be wise to address the physical toll that booze can take on the body. Alcohol-free accommodation aside, the booze is clearly here to stay.