I wonder whether Kendrick Lamar anticipated his song about a community-wide alcoholism epidemic would, ironically, become a drinking anthem?
One of my first alcohol-related memories has Swimming Pools as a backing track. Way younger than I should have been, drinking Lidl’s own brand berry-flavoured cider, as any Somerset teen would, swaying to lyrics of people “drowning their sorrows” and “trying to fit in”. I never thought I was trying to fit in, but the older I get, the more I feel like I’m following the general consensus that going sober is not for us 20-something-year-olds.
If every weekend, the only thing that all your friends can agree to do is have a drink, or a few, and then a few more, does that not make it harder to stay in on your own? Is there a way to keep your life exciting without taking a substance that makes you feel bad as soon as it wears off?
Drinking and university culture
University is one of the hardest times to quit drinking because of social expectations. Every week, a different person I know tells me how they’ll try to stop drinking, and it makes me wonder why the word ‘try’ is always around when we talk about alcohol.
Drinking is everywhere; it is part of sports and dancing, train journeys and brunches, so what is there to do when you aim to cut down or completely cut out alcohol?
Alcohol Change found that in ‘2018 in England, 44% of pupils aged 11-15 in England reported having ever drunk alcohol’, making up 70% of 15-year-olds. A 2021-2022 study done as part of the Alcohol Impact and Drug and Alcohol Impact programmes for SOS UK found that 81% of participants believed drinking to be part of university culture, while the percentage of students that have ‘pre-drinks’ increased from 43% in 2020-2021 to 61% in 2021-2022.
With your first taste of freedom and life away from home, it is easy to fall into these habits and hard to break away from the social euphoria that comes with them. Drinking can be done in moderation, but it is important to notice when a few beers to loosen up starts hurting the body and the wallet (because those loans are not increasing as fast as the cost of living).
There are ways in which going sober can be done at University without cutting yourself off from the social element that can truly keep you going between those long coursework sessions:
1 – Go to clubs sober
Don’t worry – I was shocked when I realised that as well. While queuing for hours for an over-priced drink seems quintessential to going out, I’ve had some of the most fun nights out when I joined with no intention to drink or stay late. Events such as raves and live music nights especially have a lot more focus on the music, and being sober for them will actually make you appreciate the experience more.
2 – Keep a tally of your drinks
If you find it more stressful to be fully sober, it can help to drink in moderation. Of course, the issue is to know when to stop, so a good idea is to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, maybe in your notes app. Another trick if you are going to a bar or club is to strictly bring cash- for example, if you have spent your tenner, it’s a good cue to know you’ve drank enough, which can help stop you binge drinking.
3 – Find new friends and hobbies
This last one sounds a lot more daunting than it truly is, I promise. Universities offer a wide range of societies and clubs, many, if not most, having alcohol-free options for socials and events. While your friends and housemates might go to the pub every Wednesday, maybe your pottery class has an evening session, or one of your classmates wants to have what my friend and I call ‘a cuppa and a download’. The best part about sobriety is finding so many new people and activities you would not run into in a cramped bar.
Being a student is stressful, and it is a big step to tackle the new city, friends, and course without joining in for a drink and the safety blanket of being tipsy. But sobriety is not a step reserved for older people – it is a personal journey to what keeps you healthy. And when in doubt, remember that these years don’t last forever, and you will never regret doing what was best for future you.