Voices: Drinking culture at university is toxic – so I gave it up

·4-min read
My temporary sobriety meant I was finding other ways to socialise  (Getty)
My temporary sobriety meant I was finding other ways to socialise (Getty)

My first year at university is almost at an end, with final term beginning just this week. After spending the Easter break back in my childhood home, I took some time to reflect on my past two terms at university and figure out how I wanted to make the most out of my last term of first year.

At the end of my second term, I noticed how often I was feeling groggy, tired and unmotivated to do work. I would go to bed late and get up late. While I’ve always liked a lie-in, I knew something wasn’t right – I wasn’t feeling like myself. I started to notice a pattern with drinking and my mood, and decided to set myself a challenge for the first two weeks of term: I was going to stop drinking.

One of the best things to come out of university has been my friends. My flatmates and I defied the expectation that you will not like the people you live with in the first year, and are in fact some of my closest friends now. But, like most university students, our social experience has been primarily centred around alcohol, especially during freshers week, when we were all getting to know one another.

In our flat kitchen is pinned our “chunder chart”, which tallies how many times each of us have vomited after (or during) a night out. One of my flatmates is yet to have a single tally by their name, I’ve lost count how many times we have told them (myself included) that they need to get on the chart, how they can’t get through their first year of university without throwing up from alcohol. While it is intended to be light-hearted, it is undeniable how toxic university drinking culture is.

As someone who is very conscious of their mental wellbeing, the best idea I could think of was to temporarily stop drinking. I set myself a two-week goal, and I can honestly say it was much harder than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t let my sobriety stop me from going out with friends, but ordering lemonade at the pub instead of a double felt odd – although the money I have inevitably saved is something I am grateful for.

My temporary sobriety meant I was finding other ways to socialise, such as movie nights, catch-ups over coffee, even just studying with friends – especially as exam season is approaching fast.

I received a mix of reactions when I shared that I wasn’t drinking. Interestingly, I found fellow students and friends had a healthier reaction than older family members, for example. Many friends respected and supported my decisions, my girlfriend offered to not drink as well.

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However, others had different responses, some of which suggest how ingrained drinking is, not just in university culture, but in the UK as a whole. Some offered sarcastic good lucks, others laughed, thinking I would cave almost immediately. If anything these responses, both supportive and not, encouraged me to stick to the goal.

I felt it was important that I knew for sure that I could stop drinking if I needed – and wanted – to. A 2011 study found that 10 per cent of students from seven UK universities were likely to have an alcohol dependence, and reading this made me want to ensure I had a healthy relationship with drinking.

What I mean by this is that I wanted to make sure I didn’t feel the need to get blackout drunk every time I went out, and that I could say no to a drink if I didn’t want one. I recognised that I relied on alcohol for a “good time” and realised that I personally couldn’t continue this for my own mental health.

I haven’t given up alcohol forever and sometimes a messy night out and much-needed recovery day with friends is part of the fun, but I could no longer let that be a constant in my life. I plan on only drinking once a week from now on, unless a special occasion arises. This is a choice I’m making for myself more than anything else. My intention is not to shame students or those who drink, rather to highlight the often-toxic drinking culture at university as a whole.

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