Sunday 4 March 2018

Doing University Teetotal

Becky writes about ways of approaching University life alcohol free.

- Becky Reed

University years are often positioned as a time to get blind drunk several times a week and wake up not knowing what on earth happened the night before. For some people that's great, but for some of us, drinking at university is a no-go, whether that is for cultural reasons, personal preference, or because of medical reasons. This, especially when starting uni, can be quite daunting. 

Two months before starting university I was prescribed anti-depressants that would be dangerous to consume alcohol with. If I had not been moving to university in a couple of months, being forced to become teetotal would not have been a problem. I had never been a big drinker - I just liked to have a drink now and again with friends (sometimes to make me more confident). But, because of the drinking culture that surrounds university, I became very anxious about not being able to drink. I thought I would be the only one at uni that didn't drink. I thought everyone would think I was boring, and therefore that I would not make any friends. 

I spoke about my worries with my therapist, parents, and close friends. This was really helpful, but I cannot pretend that their advice took all the anxiety away. It did, though, help me come up with a bit of a plan of how to approach the subject with my new flat mates and friends at university.

I was adamant that I did not want them to know I had a mental illness. At this point, I hadn't come to terms with my diagnosis and was crippled (wrongly) by embarrassment, shame and guilt. Therefore, I came up with these options. Please have a think about which one would work best for you, should you find yourself in a similar situation. 

1. Tell them you are on medication (even if you're not). This was the option I went with. Partly because it was true, but also because I didn't believe anyone would argue with this. I told them I was on medication because I had become physically ill over the summer (this was actually true, but this wasn't the medication that stopped me drinking). From my experience, people respect this, and the majority of the time they tend not to ask any more questions.

2. Tell them you are on antibiotics. This is similar to the above, however, just be aware you can probably only keep this one up for a couple of weeks.

3. Tell them you don't like it. This is a perfectly reasonable option to go with. There is nothing wrong with not enjoying it. Hopefully people will respect this, but some may try and encourage you more than you may like. 

4. Always get your own drink. You could pretend you have put an alcoholic beverage into your soft drink.

5. Always volunteer to be the designated driver: Obviously, this will only work if you have a car and actually need transport to get to wherever you're going.

6. Tell them the truth. This is daunting I know. I couldn't even begin to contemplate this option - I didn't know how people I had only just met would react. This said, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and if people react negatively, this shows more about them than it does about you. 

Ok, so you have told your new university friends that you are teetotal. Now the next challenge… how do you enjoy university to the same extent as everyone else? It is 100% possible, I promise.

1. Get involved with activities that don't involve drinking. For example, join a society so you can meet like-minded people.

2. Encourage your new friends to meet up for a meal. A lot of emphasis can be put on going out at uni, but by organising a daytime activity it can be an ideal way to catch up with friends without feeling guilty for not drinking.

3. Don't be afraid to go on nights out sober. Ok, so the likelihood is that the majority of students will drink, but, this does not mean you can't still have fun with them. The thought of socialising can be terrifying at the best of times, and you may wish you could just have a drink to help you relax. I would just say to try this a few times. See how it makes you feel. Maybe discuss it with someone you meet at uni and get on with.

4. Don't be afraid to say no. Know your limits and what keeps you healthy. If you don't want to go out… don't. If you don't want to drink… don't. You could tell the truth, or make up an excuse. Have a think about what works for you.  Please at no point feel pressure. If they are your true friends, they will understand.

Whenever you're worried that you should be drinking for whatever reason, just remember you're not going to wake up with a stinking hangover in the morning!

Hey, I’m Becky. I’m a final year student studying Sport and Social Sciences at the University of Bath. I have been living with generalised anxiety for a number of years, and have, more recently, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and episodes of severe depression. I wanted to write for Student Minds to show there’s light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark it seems.'

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