Going Sober for October

You may have seen that a number of QMU members are ditching the booze for the month of October in an attempt to raise money for Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. As a country, we love our alcohol, and for many students drinking is a staple part of their time at university. As anyone who has ever given up something they love will know, it can often take a lot of willpower and self control to totally cut that vice out their life, whether it’s for charity or their own personal wellbeing.

However, the campaign has received some criticism, with some saying that the act of not doing something (like drinking), instead of actively taking part in something (like a marathon) is an easy cop-out, and that those who would find it difficult to give up drinking for a month should be concerned about their drinking habits and their relationship with alcohol.

It’s well known that students and alcohol go together like chips and cheese on a drunken walk home from Magic. Whether it’s a pint after class or a subcrawl in fancy dress, Glasgow uni students love a drink, and have even won the university the title of Scotland’s booziest Uni. Non-drinkers may look at Sober October and think “what’s the big deal? I don’t drink and it’s not difficult”, but this ignores the side of drinking that most students enjoy the most: the social aspect. The act of swapping a pint for an Irn Bru is not the tricky part, but when the invites to flat parties, club nights, gigs or even just for a pint and a game of pool after class start rolling in, going without the booze becomes a lot more difficult. Those who don’t drink are also probably less likely to enjoy and attend events where the main activity is drinking, and so the act of saying ‘no thanks’ to such invites may not faze them.

For those who do though, they’re left with the choice of either not going and feeling like they’re missing out on seeing their friends, or going and trying to enjoy themselves whilst sober. When you take into consideration the annoying drunk people and the lack of Dutch courage usually valued in these environments, the latter seems a lot less appealing – I know I wouldn’t want to brave Viper without a drink in me. When the bulk of university socialising is made up of these events, repeatedly saying no to them can leave you feeling isolated, bored and with some serious FOMO, and it’s this that is often the most difficult part of going sober for October. Challenging yourself to overcome this, though, through either finding other ways to spend your time and socialise without alcohol, or learning to become more comfortable in your own company by swapping a night out with pals for a night in by yourself, whilst a positive thing, should not be seen as an easy, cop-out way of raising money for charity.

Is this indicative of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or a dependency issue? No, probably not. Talking about unhealthy drinking habits with students seems to be a bit taboo – when we talk about alcohol, a sense of pride comes with being able to drink a lot and often, rather than concern for the effects of binge drinking. Binge drinking is a problem across universities, but to imply that all those who are guilty of binge drinking have a dependency or addiction problem is ignorant to the reality of alcoholism. Think of it like comparing bouts of sadness with depression – both are a problem, but one has a significantly deeper impact on one’s life and to compare it to the former trivialises the seriousness of the latter. Yes, we should discuss the dangers of binge drinking, but condemning the Sober October campaign, which actively challenges us to take a break from it, seems counterproductive.

Most people would agree that any action that raises money for charity is a good thing, and some of the criticisms of the Sober October campaign have started important conversations about students’ relationship with alcohol, but I believe that to cast the campaign in a negative light does nothing to help change this relationship. Going sober, either for October or for longer, is not an easy task – to imply so is at best wilfully ignorant of the fact that many people enjoy drinking and the activities associated with it, and at worst trivialises the experiences of those who genuinely struggle with alcoholism. That being said, just because it is not easy to give up does not indicate a dependency issue – giving up something you enjoy is never an easy task, and utilising this as a tool to raise money for charity should be admired, not condemned.

[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]

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