Alcohol Awareness Week – My relationship with alcohol

Anonymous, NTU Psychology student

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” – Epictetus

When beginning University, I unknowingly already had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It was quite normal for me to casually drink with my family and/or binge drink with friends most days. In first year, it was seen as a joke that my tally on the chunder chart was OFF the chart and we had to make a new one.

It wasn’t until I returned in second year that I started to notice just how problematic my drinking habits had become, after casually drinking at home with my Mum intensified over lockdown. Come Autumn 2020, I was not coping with the stresses of the world and being cooped inside whilst trying to study. Before I ever even touched a drop of alcohol, I suffered from depression, and with no way to carry out my usual coping strategies or see my family and friends from home who knew how to support me when I was feeling low and overwhelmed, I turned to the bottle.

It was when I had to go to hospital for COVID that my doctor asked me questions surrounding my drinking habits after taking my blood and I broke down. I knew it was clear from my liver functioning I was drinking too much, and I found this rather embarrassing. With deadlines fast approaching (my first ironically surrounding stress and alcohol in students) I decided to confide in a couple of friends who had a healthy relationship with alcohol about my worries. This aided them in helping me hold myself accountable for my intentions on cutting back. This was very hard in the beginning – especially since I used drinking as a coping mechanism, particularly during times of stress.

Despite help from others, I would still find a way to sneak in a drink by the end of the day, secretly. This was when I had to dig deeper and ask myself WHY I wanted to cut back on drinking, WHAT was it that triggered me to drink, and HOW could I replace this unhealthy coping strategy with a healthy one under the limits of lockdown. Connecting pen to paper answering these questions enabled me to see where my values resided, identify my stressors and make a proactive plan of what I was going to do next. Alcohol was costing me more than money – it was costing me my mental health, physical health and ultimately my potential.

Alcohol does not relieve your stress; it erases your senses and your ability to think.

Alcohol is incredibly detrimental to your brain, impairing its volume and function. Those who drink are more likely to suffer from a decline in the hippocampus (hippocampal atrophy) which is responsible for functions such as learning, memory, emotion and the autonomic nervous system. However, do not be alarmed, as when you cut down on drinking your brain reconstructs and can quite literally rewire itself. Breaking drinking habits is not easy and may not happen overnight. Though being honest with yourself, offering yourself compassion and becoming conscious of how this may be affecting you can really help in breaking these habits.

The healing powers of Mother Nature.

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but I can’t stress this enough – going outdoors when it is daylight for just 30mins-1hr a day, somewhere perhaps surrounded by trees (if you’re an NTU student living in the city, the Arboretum or Forest Fields!!) can make such a difference in terms of boosting your mood and has been shown to help those who misuse alcohol. Not only is emotional well-being shown to improve, but so does the immune system, with the reduction of blood pressure, inflammation and muscle tension. At home I go on a 1-2hr walk with my dog every afternoon as I am lucky enough to live near lots of green spaces. I recognised this was something I missed and helped with my well-being, so a friend and I began going on walks across Nottingham. Sometimes we would grab a coffee and sit in a park to chat, but we also found it very helpful to combine our walks with tools we had learnt from meditation, such as noticing what we heard, saw, smelt and felt.

Improvise, adapt, overcome!

Prepare^

If you’re wanting to cut back on drinking, I would suggest selecting days where you are not going to drink and instead plan an activity that can be done sober, such as something creative or a form of movement. What helped me was thinking back to fun activities I enjoyed as a child, roller skating and painting! Although my childhood roller-skates still fit me (yes big feet) I went flying (not intoxicated, promise) when trying them out again as they were inline, so I invested some pennies (I had saved from avoiding pints) in some quads. This even inspired my friends at Uni to invest in some so we go together now!

Adapting your routine is extremely helpful when trying to cut down from alcohol. I started off with simply stocking my fridge with a can of soft drink that I liked, opposed to beer or vino, so that when it came to making dinner I would be reminded of my intention to avoid alcohol that evening. However, the hardest adjustment was saying NO to outings involving drink. Some people may be able to attend an evening revolved around alcohol and have soft drinks, some of my friends can and some can’t. If you’re not sure and get invited to something but don’t feel like drinking, opt for a mocktail, non-alcoholic beer or soda. I for one know that if I don’t want to drink and get an invite to the pub that the temptation of a Heineken will merge into multiple. Although FOMO (fear of missing out) is something I’m sure many people experience, know that you don’t have to attend everything if it’s not in your best interest.

Finally, incorporating a miracle morning routine has been life changing in maintaining the reduction of my alcohol intake and in general has transformed my well-being. This involves a 6-step-practice known as SAVERS: Silence, Affirmations, Visualisation, Exercise, Reading and Scribing. If you are curious about this, you can access a pdf on how to start at https://miraclemorning.com/. I really do hope this helps and remember; booze is not always your buddy!

Support

Concerned about your drinking or want to cut down?

Drinks tracker for iPhone – If you have an iPhone or Apple device, you can download the free NHS drinks tracker from the App Store. It allows you to keep a drink diary and get feedback on your drinking.

Drink aware – Provides independent alcohol advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking

Down Your Drink – Is a self-help site for people concerned about their drinking.

The Wellbeing Hub – Offers support with mental health, drugs, alcohol, housing, and employment. Their advice is free and confidential. Contact them on 0800 0285 598 or by email.

SMART Recovery – Self-Help Addiction Recovery Programmes from UK Smart Recovery include recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling and more.

For support in Nottingham, Nottingham Recovery Network provide support, advice and treatment for people who use alcohol and drugs in a problematic way.

For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.


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