I tried Dry January as an Exeter Uni student and here’s how it went

It’s safe to say God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers

Though most New Year’s Days since being allowed to drink have been ones of extreme exhaustion and nausea, waking up into 2024 was particularly gruelling. I rotted in my bed wondering if I really had to have that last shot of tequila that seemed to tip me over the edge – and the answer was no. In fact, I realised that the majority of the time, there is no reason or logic to my drinking. In previous years, Dry Jan seemed like a distant future exclusive to my graduate years. But, as a third year with a lot of work to get on with, I thought that it could be possible. I wondered if I could attain such a feat – even whilst being at uni. So, I put it to the test.

Getting started

I think I am not alone in saying that alcohol acts as my social juice. Whilst amongst familiar faces I yap like no other, in new company I find I can be a bit quieter. More often than not, I rely on alcohol to untie the knot in my stomach before entering a room of people I am unfamiliar with. I pre like a woman who hasn’t seen a bottle of wine in years, and this is really something I would like to improve upon for 2024.

I started off strong. I replaced my normal g&t with a lime soda and it was great. I was not only waking up fine the next day; I was learning to embrace being the only sober one in a room! However, this was while I was still at home and untested by the drinking culture that I have come to love in Exeter. I had not yet been tempted by the prospect of sharing a bottle with friends because “we may as well splurge if we’re both getting a large glass.” I was concerned to head back to EX4 in fear that the first week post-coursework submissions and exams would entail some heavy drinking.

The struggle

Shock, it did. To put it frankly, my Dry January rained very heavily. One of the hardest parts about trying to stay sober in January at uni wasn’t the temptation of alcohol as I feared it would be. It was more having to tell people that you weren’t drinking. Telling people that you are taking on Dry January was like saying you were preparing to jump out of a plane with no parachute. I was faced with constant questions: “Why? Are you sure you don’t want just one?” My endeavour was also not helped by having four 21sts back to back. This is something I knew would be difficult in light of my choice to cut out alcohol, especially with a cheeky: “Have one for me, it’s my birthday!” The temptation was TOO high. It was inevitable that I would have a drink.

It started with a shandy because it “didn’t really count”. It then progressed to a cheeky shot before a birthday for “Dutch courage” and eventually escalated to going to bed at 4am and waking up at midday, craving a Sunday roast with no energy to make it.

Final thoughts

Whilst the feeling of a hangover is rough, the even worse feeling was thinking that I had failed Dry Jan. I’d put so much weight and pressure on this concept that I was really upset at thinking I had failed. I then realised that maybe Dry Jan wasn’t for me. Maybe I didn’t have to work in the extremes of drinking loads or nothing at all – just because I had drank for a few nights in January didn’t mean that I had to give up on my goal of having a better relationship with alcohol. I was just unrealistic with my initial goal.

I have decided going forward from January that sobriety and me as a final year writing her dissertation can’t always go hand in hand. I’ve accepted that I will try my best to stay sober (which won’t be hard with many late night study sessions pending) but not punish myself for when I do want to have a drink with friends.

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