After starting to take care of my mental health and depression, I decided to stop drinking after I noticed that suicidal thoughts and self-harm were most prevalent when I was under the influence of alcohol.
Now, four months sober at 20 years old, I’ve noticed how alcohol impacted my mental well-being when I was vulnerable and how people treat me when they notice I’m sober or just not drinking. That being said, these are eight things I’ve learned in my four months of sobriety at university.
1. Alcohol and mental health issues don’t mix well
If you’re struggling with mental health, whether that be anxiety, depression, or anything that impacts your mental well-being, I highly recommend monitoring your alcohol and drug usage and even going sober entirely if you feel that you can’t limit your drinking.
As great as alcohol can be, it’s important to remember that it is a depressant, and if you’re already feeling low or suicidal, it can have detrimental effects on your mental state, particularly leading you to act and think irrationally and even act on suicidal thoughts.
While you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely if you have strong self-control, most friends I know who struggle with mental health are careful with how many units of alcohol they drink and how often they drink, as alcohol and mental health issues generally don’t mix well, especially if you are on medication for your mental health issues like antidepressants.
2. Friends shouldn’t pressure you into bad things
Good friends shouldn’t pressure you into smoking, drinking, vaping, breaking the law, or any other bad things, especially if you don’t want to do them. I know I sound like a total mum, but the best friends I have are the ones who respect when I don’t want to drink or do drugs instead of pressuring me into them.
While I do have a few friends that smoke or vape, I’ve never been pressured by them to do so and actually have seen them discourage other friends from picking up the same habit because they know it’s unhealthy and regret starting in the first place.
If you don’t want to drink or smoke or do bad things, your friends should want the best for you and respect your decision, instead of pressuring you to go down the rabbit hole with them.
3. Staying sober at university is harder than I thought
When I first stopped drinking at university, I struggled to completely stay sober in the first few months and actually broke my sober streak a number of times because it was more difficult than I thought it would be.
Especially at university, it’s easy to feel left out when you’re the only one on a night out not drinking, and it’s easy to feel restricted when you want to get drunk but have told yourself you can’t to protect yourself.
And even if friends support you and don’t mind that you’re not drinking, I often still feel like people are judging me for staying sober, which has been difficult to overcome.
4. …and easier than I thought
However, staying sober at university has also been easier than I thought. Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky with good friends, but I’ve barely received any backlash or negative comments when I tell people I’m not drinking.
As long as I make sure I’m fun to be around when everyone else is getting drunk, and I’m not judging other people for drinking, people really don’t seem to mind that I’m sober.
Plus, when people know you’re not drinking for mental health reasons, they usually respect your decision more, as they’d rather you be alive and sober than drunk and taking dangerous risks with your health (i.e. acting on suicidal thoughts).
5. Going sober won’t cure your problems
I half-expected going sober from alcohol to totally cure my depression and thoughts of self-harm and suicide, and this was partially true. While I still have dark thoughts while sober, I don’t have an urge to act on those thoughts anymore because I don’t have alcohol in my system making me think irrationally, which has been huge in my mental health journey.
However, going sober won’t totally cure your problems. While it is helpful to not drink when you’re focusing on bettering your mental health, it’s only once piece of the puzzle. If you’re still not talking to a professional or going outside or eating healthy or taking your medicine, or whatever other steps help you improve mentally, then you won’t see yourself making much progress.
6. Sometimes it’s better to hide your sobriety
While I don’t regret telling friends I’m sober right now as it helps hold me accountable for my actions, I have noticed that when I tell people I’m sober, they don’t want to invite me to drink with them as they feel worried I’ll be left out, which is totally justified.
Plus, there is the stereotype that if you’re sober from alcohol, you’re a raging alcoholic who was getting drunk every day, which wasn’t the case for me, as I went sober because I noticed drinking was interfering with my progress on my mental health recovery.
While I’m proudly out and sober now, it can be better to hide your sobriety and just tell people you’re on antibiotics or another excuse so you don’t have people making judgments about you for being sober.
7. Taking care of drunk friends is surprisingly rewarding
Depression can make you feel like you’re a burden, and after taking dangerous risks with my health while drinking, I still believe I was a burden to my friends when I was seriously struggling mentally.
So, when I first went sober and was the only one of my friends not drinking, I actually found some reward in helping my drunk friends get home safely and taking care of them when they needed some help. After so long of feeling like people were taking care of me when I was feeling low, I’ve loved being able to return the favor by being a good friend to them on nights out.
8. True friends will support you
As nervous as I was to go sober, I received so much unconditional love and support from my closest friends, especially those who knew what I had been struggling with mentally. When I told people I was sober, I had a number of people tell me that they would go sober with me so I wouldn’t be alone, which was not only insanely generous of them but also made me feel incredibly supported.
It was easy to spot my true friends from those people who were just nosy because my true friends were concerned about my well-being and just wanted to make sure why I was okay, while the nosy people had a million questions about why I wasn’t drinking and wouldn’t respect my privacy when I told them it was because of mental health issues.
To those people who are thinking about going sober, please do not worry about the judgment of your friends. If they are your friends, they will respect and support you and still want you to come on nights out even if you’re not drinking. And ultimately, you have to do what is best for you and your health.