I have a strange relationship with alcohol. It’s not that I can’t stop drinking – it’s that I can’t start. This gives me a different perspective and experience to most students at university, though mostly to my own detriment. Most social activities for my age group involve an element of drinking; add to this to an anxious transition into university for me, by December 2018 I had decided. I was going alcohol free for as long as I could in 2019. Dry January came at the perfect moment for me.
Dry January is an annual month-long challenge in which individuals abstain from alcohol. For most, their motivation comes from their excesses in December. One too many hangovers leads to a feeling of resolution and renewal, and January offers them an opportunity to detox. According to Alcohol Change UK, where the challenge originated, millions take part in the voluntary abstinence. From 1 January – 1 February, the goal is to be teetotal. Though it has been highlighted that it takes 66 days to break a habit, Dry January aims to alter the drinking habits of the individuals that take part for the long term, during the space of one month. You can take part in Dry January to raise money for charity, as well as to experience the health benefits (of which include better sleep, better skin, more energy and weight loss.)
Dry January would be as easy for me as it would for any other month of the year: but abstaining from alcohol, even when you want to, is harder than you think. While my flatmates started pre-ing and getting dressed on the first night of refreshers, I was chucking on my netball kit to go to training. In reflection, I’m glad I had that excuse. The quiz seemed fun but Hive not so much – especially not sober. In my experience, it’s difficult to enjoy clubbing without being intoxicated. None of it appeals to a sober mindset, especially if you’re an individual that prefers chatting to dancing (guilty as charged).
My biggest challenge arose on a Wednesday night. I attended my first ever sport social and managed to navigate the night alcohol-free. There was, however, an atmosphere of expectation. I had attended a pub and a pres. I knew what I walked into, but when I told someone that I wasn’t drinking, I delved into conversational deja-vu.
Friendly person: “What are you drinking?”
Friendly person turns confused. “What? Why?”
Me: “I don’t drink. I’m doing Dry January.”
This last statement creates a form of ferocity in my experience. Most times I’ve had this conversation, I’ve been told it’s only a matter of time before I start to love drinking. They almost get annoyed and start asking me questions as to why I don’t drink. The more drunk they are, the more uncomfortable this conversation becomes. I understand where they are coming from. Drinking is fun to those that like it. Most of the time, I feel like I’m looking through a pane of glass into a room where people are having the time of their lives. It just isn’t for me.
Moments like those highlight the necessity of drinking as a part of university culture. Most socials I encounter involve a trip to a nightclub or pub. Though drinking at these events is optional, the culture of expectation often presses down on people like me. It’s not fun to be sober in a room full of drunks. This is what makes avoiding alcohol difficult. It seems ingrained into most social activities for my age group: and I must balance on a tightrope. I either avoid activities that I genuinely dislike, and sacrifice an element of my social life, or I go out to those events and betray my own wishes. I am continuously treading on a fine line.
The main selling points for Dry January are the health benefits. These I can contest to. I often notice that after drinking, even when not hungover, I experience low mood. This is likely due to alcohol’s nature as a depressant, as it exasperates any pre-existing mental health conditions for consumers. With the start of the semester as a stressful period for everyone, I’ve managed to avoid a day hungover wallowing in bleakness and worry. This has infinitely helped my mental health. Furthermore, abstaining from alcohol has encouraged me to start a kind of health kick. For the first time in my life I’m working out regularly, out with training, and I’m not hindered by a lack of sleep or clouded mind. I managed to run 5k at the gym on Friday instead of sleeping off Hive.
Dry January has been good for me. It gives me a solid reason – a backbone outwith my own predisposition – to reject drinking. I don’t know why I don’t like alcohol, I just don’t. With Dry January as my reasoning for this, it was enough for most people to back of, and reply “ahh okay, cool”, instead of inviting an impromptu round of 20 questions. Though the health benefits are numerous, I don’t think many university students could be encouraged to partake in the challenge until their own relationship with alcohol changes. For most students I asked, the pros – more sleep, more energy – do not outweigh the cons – missing out on social opportunities. Dry January will most likely continue to be an event for those that drink moderately in the first place and wish to cut down on their alcohol intake overall. The world will keep turning, students will keep drinking, and Hive will be permanently busy. That is the way it is.