Why I Chose Sobriety at University

One student’s journey from serial wreck-head to cold turkey

Ah, the familiar ‘going out out’ routine. If you’re a student or a self-professed party animal, then I’m sure you’ll know the feeling of rushing to your bus or taxi the morning after the night before, feeling bloated and sweating out the cheapest wine or cider you could find on short notice. I remember it well, albeit not fondly. We would start drinking our giant bottles of Frosty Jack’s at 7pm when we began to get ready, wincing as we chugged the sour liquid from our wine glasses. Sticking on false eyelashes when you’re half-cut on Frosty’s is a mammoth task, let me tell you. When we were all ready, we would go into our communal area and play drinking games, using anythingas an excuse to drink. Someone said ‘blue’? Shot. Someone left the table? Down your drink. There’s a sense of community in drinking at university, and although most of us weren’t big drinkers before, we quickly adapted to the lifestyle of excess.

Sticking on false eyelashes when you’re half-cut on Frosty’s is a mammoth task, let me tell you.

Before we knew it, many of us had started smoking and drinking on the daily, celebrating any achievement with a house party and a couple of noise warnings from university security. It was very easy for me to get caught up in this routine as I was very shy all my life, and I felt like I was a part of something when I’d chain-smoke and drink all day with my housemates. Some of our housemates ended up with final warnings and having to go on drugs awareness courses, and at the time we found it funny, calling it ‘banter’. But as I now know, it’s not big and it’s not clever, and you look like a total tool for thinking it is. We started going to raves and using MDMA, and whilst we knew the risks, we felt invincible and thought nothing could happen to us if we just danced and stayed hydrated, which clearly many others also believe. In 2017, the Crime Survey of England and Walesfound that 1 in 5 adults aged 16-24 have taken a drug in the past year, and a study by the National Union of Students has found that 2 in 5 university students are drug users, with the instances of prescription drug use also rising for products such as Modafinil, Ritalin and Adderall. I asked a friend from university about his drug use, and his thoughts reflected mine. “I feel like I was just conforming to what everyone around me was doing. My housemates all did it so I did too. I enjoyed it but if I lived at home I wouldn’t do it.” It’s understandable why people make this choice; when the immensely warm, happy wave would roll over my body it would allow me to open up my senses, feel the music in my bones, and it became something which I was accustomed to. But all ‘good’ things come to an end.

We started going to raves and using MDMA, and whilst we knew the risks, we felt invincible.

After a year or so, we all started throwing up when we would use MDMA, and it was uncontrollable with no warning. We worked out what to do to curb the sickness, but on my 20th birthday, myself and a few friends went to a secret warehouse party. As soon as we arrived we took half, and within half an hour we began to feel that comforting warmth. All was well until we began throwing up uncontrollably on the makeshift dancefloor. It passed and we enjoyed the music for a while, but then I began to hallucinate and panic, thinking that no one in the room had eyes, their faces appearing warped. That vividly realistic hallucination has stayed with me ever since. After a long journey, holding back our gag reflexes, we returned home where I retired to the toilet and stayed there vomiting for half an hour, my stomach contorting, my eyes rolling into the back of my head. It was agony. I could see the worry in my friend’s face as he watched me chuck up my guts over and over, and I decided then and there that I would never touch MDMA again. It’s not worth risking my life for. We all think we can stop at any time, but it usually takes an awful experience which scars you for life to stop.

All was well until we began throwing up uncontrollably on the makeshift dancefloor.

During my misadventure in drinking and drugs, I developed severe insomnia on top of some pre-existing mental health issues, and it got to the point that I would hallucinate past traumas and have regular meltdowns. This was the hardest experience of my life. I had a 20% attendance at university, it was growing increasingly hard to juggle a job and whilst I was still achieving good grades, it took all-nighters and lots of crying to get there. I was a functioning but heavily depressed and anxious student, and at times I had suicidal thoughts– luckily my friends and boyfriend were there for me, pleading with me to get help. Little did they know my excessive drug-taking and use of alcohol as a numbing agent had been my downfall. It was my fault, and now only I could fix it. A former housemate of mine who has also dealt with mental health issues and drug use had a similar experience, saying, “one minute I can be crazy motivated and when I’m coming down I feel like dropping out. It’s affected people I live with as they have to deal with me at my highs and lows.” However, she uses drugs such as Modafinil to focus, so for her the drugs are a way to improve her brain function, a way to “switch up emotion,” which she finds very difficult to do sober.

For her the drugs are a way to improve her brain function, a way to “switch up emotion,” which she finds very difficult to do sober.

I haven’t touched drugs since that moment, which is now 10 months ago, and after noticing that a hangover makes me depressed I also rarely drink alcohol. It’s incredible how my life has changed since I went sober; my attention span is better, my mood is more balanced, I’m massively productive, and to top it all off I never have to fear for my life in the name of ‘fun’ again. I feel free. However, this internal sense of freedom meant living at home for my final year and leaving behind the life I had at university. It also means I now have to face the permanent damage which I have created such as memory issues, bouts of insomnia, lucid nightmares and sleep paralysis. But these issues are a lot less severe than alcohol poisoning, water intoxication or an overdose and they are improving thanks to natural remedies, so I think myself lucky. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have even tried drugs, let alone made them part of a routine. It’s just too easy to get hooked on them. I guess my opinion may not stop you, but if you notice any changes in your mind or body, please listen to my warning and stop before you cause irreversible changes. And if you’re a fresher considering whether to try drugs or drink heavily – please don’t do anything just because your friends do it. If something feels wrong to you, then it is wrong for you.

Have you been negatively affected by drugs or alcohol? Contact one of these organisations

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.