More young people than ever are beginning to develop an awareness of their general health and wellbeing, eating healthily and exercising. In addition, they are becoming aware of the impact of alcohol and recreational drugs on their bodies and minds.

Alcohol and recreational drugs are often viewed as a part of university life, a way of letting go and having fun, a reward for studying hard, giving students a sense of belonging. Students may have a fear of missing out if they are not drinking, smoking or experimenting with drugs.

However, many students are beginning to question the potential impact of participating in taking alcohol or recreational drugs, and realising that there are many consequences, a major one being on their health. Hangovers, which create a chemical interference in the brain, make any form of concentration much more difficult and can induce a wide range of physical and emotional ill-effects such as lethargy and anxiety.

Binge drinking is something that appears to have become synonymous with University life in western countries. As teenagers leave home for the first time, drinking and taking drugs seem to be part of the course, offering relief from hectic class schedules, exams and deadlines.  Students celebrate success and failure with a party.

Unfortunately – and avoidably – some students go on to develop an addiction and mental health issues. Patterns of behaviour that develop in these formative years can stay long after university and become ways of coping for later life, so the development of alternative strategies and healthier ways of coping is essential and to be encouraged.

Staying sober may feel like an impossible task when feeling the need to belong and to have fun, however many universities have begun to offer provisions for this, such as recovery programmes, NA and AA meetings, sober housing etc. In addition to taking advantage of available support, it can help to explore the many ways to have fun and be social whilst remaining sober.

Here are a few tips to stay sober and look after your health and wellbeing:

Check out recovery programmes

If you have any concerns at all concerning sobriety, join a university recovery programme and attend meetings. It can incredibly helpful to know that you have a community of others who are also committed to staying sober. There are often also options for sober housing.

Engage in fun

Unis offer a wide variety of entertainment, and there is far more on offer than just bars. Examples include coffee shops, art galleries, music nights, comedy clubs, movies, and bowling etc.

Check out sober bars and parties

A social get-together can be focused around good games, good food and healthy non-alcoholic beverages. Food crawls can be a fun option instead of pub-crawls. Host your own sober party.

Join a team or club

There are a huge variety of interest-based groups, from physical activity and sports to subject matters from social justice to environmentalism.

Develop support mechanisms

Try developing your own strategies in order to keep you sober, such as thinking of assertive ways to turn down a drink, having the support of another sober friend when you go out, and having an exit plan if you feel like leaving. Knowing that you have a way out of situations you feel uncomfortable in can help you feel confident in your sobriety.

General coping strategies

It is important to develop coping strategies other than drinking or taking drugs to deal with stress. Ideas to reduce stress include mindfulness and meditation, journaling or taking up yoga. Explore to find other healthy coping strategies that work well for you.

Developing alternative ways of coping

Listen to your physical needs and to your emotions. The healthier you are, the more capable you will be of making good decisions and staying away from alcohol and drugs. Develop alternative ways of coping with difficult feelings and ensure you always have general support from trusted family or friends.

In conclusion, sobriety can be the healthy way forward, a way of looking after the self fully, keeping a clear head, staying on track with your goals and yet still not missing out on the fun. Give the strategies and resources mentioned above a try, it may not as hard as you might think, in fact overall they may make life a lot easier!

Author: Christina Mardell-Walsh, Head of Student Wellbeing