The words “sober” and “student” aren’t often strung together in the same sentence – and that’s mostly down to the fact that drinking is seen as a quintessential part of the student experience (at least in Britain, where the legal drinking age is 18). Shots, pints, cocktails, glasses of wine… most students have a “go-to” alcoholic beverage. But what about the students that don’t drink? Where do they fit into the equation?
Whilst, personally, I have never felt particularly pressured by student drinking culture, I know that many have. Alcohol is a central part of many club socials, something which members of a sports team will be well aware of. That Thursday morning hangover is always the worst one. Typically, I would be as game for a few social drinks as the next person, and partaking in “Dry January” never really crossed my mind. But then again, I didn’t envision spending New Year’s Eve or Day at home, alone with my parents, age 20.
We are now well into the second half of January and my sober streak has continued. Whether accidental or not, it really got me thinking about the toxicity of drinking culture and the benefits of easing off on the alcohol. Looking back at the last times I drank – in that strange limbo between lockdowns – I realise that I took it too far almost every time.
Hoping to get away for part of my year abroad in semester 2, the general uncertainty and unpredictability of a world with Covid-19 was wreaking havoc on my anxiety. Alcohol became my outlet for such emotions. Some people say that alcohol numbs pain, but for me, it heightened it. Everything would get blown out of proportion in my alcohol-riddled mind, my anxiety would get the better of me, and logic would be replaced with irrationality.
And so, whilst being stuck at home with only my parents for company isn’t necessarily ideal (as much as I love them), this lockdown 3.0 has made me try to focus on any positives I can find. Being sober has become one of them; my skin is so much better, as are my eating habits and energy levels. A quick google revealed that other benefits may include better sleep, increased productivity, reduced anxiety and, something I’m sure all students can appreciate, more cash. Because let’s be honest, alcohol is expensive.
There are myriad reasons why someone might be sober, be it because someone doesn’t like the taste of alcohol or who they become when they drink. All reasons are good reasons; I’m not here to pit them against each other. I do find it interesting, however, that being sober as a student is less socially acceptable than being inebriated on a regular basis.
Looking back at socials in previous years, I’ve definitely been guilty of trying to convince someone who was sober to have a drink. Drinking culture has become synonymous with student lifestyle, so much so that it was almost impossible to disentangle them. That is, before Covid came along.
Although I’m not planning on staying sober for the rest of my student life, I’m definitely going to take on board what I’ve learnt during this (accidental) “Dry January” experience. I’ve realised, to use an age-old cliché, that less is more. And not just because I’m a hopeless lightweight.
Detaching myself from student drinking culture has allowed me to adopt a more objective perspective on it. I have come to the understanding that I don’t always like how I feel when I’ve had one drink too many. Being able to enjoy a glass or two without going overboard is a challenge I’m going to set myself for the future. The “go hard or go home” attitude has both distorted my perception of my limits and my ability to be disciplined when it comes to alcohol.
Lockdown might be hard, but at least it has given us the time to reflect on past behaviours and work towards future goals. So, whether going sober is something you’ve previously considered or not, join me on my unplanned sober streak and see whether you notice any improvements in your mental health, sleep, skin, work ethic… I could go on, but I won’t, because I think I’ve made my point. This is in no way intended to incite guilt for drinking, but to highlight that being a student and sober is ok, it can have benefits, and we shouldn’t let student drinking culture get in the way of that.
And if the prospect of drinking water is putting you off giving sobriety a go, buy yourself a bottle of Aldi’s finest double strength squash – it does the job.
Image: Alex Knight via Unsplash