January 11th, 2019. It’s 12 am on my 20th birthday, and I’m currently naked, curled up over the bin in my bedroom being violently sick. I’ve been drinking since 1pm, and my recollection of the past six hours is hazy at best. My boyfriend has just stormed out after a blazing row; I can’t remember what started it, but I know my level of intoxication certainly hasn’t helped. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but I tell myself it will be the last.
It took a few more nights of blackouts, drunk texts, and regrettable choices before I decided that enough is enough, and on February 3rd 2019, I quit drinking alcohol for good. As a second-year student at the University of Edinburgh, drinking had played a huge part in my life for the best part of two years. It was a way for me to escape the stress of my studies, a confidence boost and a way to lose my inhibitions for one night (often with disastrous consequences). But despite the benefits, alcohol came with many disadvantages. Drinking became increasingly expensive, especially as my tolerance for alcohol increased, and my drunken self liked to assume one of two states: overly flirtatious and crude, or extremely emotional. I would often walk home alone in tears, the danger of which never even hit me at the time. The negatives were starting to outweigh the positives, and I had had enough.
In the summer of 2018, already aware that I was drinking too much, I decided to go alcohol-free for four weeks. It was a very rewarding experience; I felt so much better in myself (more confidence and clearer skin, to name but a few benefits), but I was surrounded by heavy drinkers who couldn’t wait for me to start drinking again. I inevitably fell back into a spiral of heavy drinking after the four-week period ended.
Although I continued drinking for my first semester back at university, things were different. Once I made the decision to stop drinking, most of my friends were extremely supportive of my choice, with some of them choosing to go alcohol-free with me on nights out. I don’t consider myself to be a clearly defined extrovert or introvert; I love a night out as much as a night in, but the extroverted part of me didn’t find it difficult to have fun on nights out; if anything, it was easier! I was no longer spending the night worrying what everyone else was thinking about me, or where (or when) my next drink was coming from. I was still in the middle of the dance floor, but this time I could remember it.
Whilst my closest friends have been very supportive of my journey, not everyone has been as accepting. The hardest part of my journey hit when I told my (now former) best friend, of my plans to stop drinking. She looked at me like I’d just grown another head. “You can’t do that,” she told me, “You’re the tequila girl. Drinking culture is too intertwined with university culture for you to do it.” Although she wasn’t right about me not being able to go alcohol-free, she was certainly right about one thing; drinking and university are almost synonymous. It can be difficult to stop drinking whilst at university, especially with peer pressure from other people, but the first time you say no to alcohol will be the hardest.
I’ve learnt to love lemonade and spending no more than £5 on any given night out. One rule that has helped me is the 20-minute rule: whenever I’ve felt tempted to drink, I always wait 20 minutes. The craving normally passes, and I’m tearing up the dancefloor in no time. If it doesn’t pass, I send one of my friends to the bar to get me a water or an alcohol-free cider (Koppaberg summer fruits and Old Mout Berries & Cherries are two personal favourites). This normally deals with my desire to have a drink in my hand. Rinse and repeat, and that’s my secret. It can be hard to be a non-drinker when most students often drink to excess. I can honestly say I have never felt better since giving up drinking. Although the first days and weeks can be hard, if you have a support network in place (I highly recommend reading some books about going alcohol-free) and believe that you can do it, you most definitely can.
I originally committed to 30 days of no alcohol, followed by 100 days. At 100 days, I knew that this was a change I wanted to make permanent. My new addiction was running, and in May 2019 I ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon. It was one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of my life, and I definitely would not have been able to achieve it had I been still drinking. I set my next milestone at 6 months alcohol-free, followed by a year, but in reality, I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to stop counting the days and just enjoy life without it.