Amy and Rachel, Wellbeing Practitioners from our Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Service, explain the effects of alcohol and how to cut down.
For some, the university experience involves trying new things – but don’t feel like you need to reach for the schnapps to fit in and have fun. Alcohol can affect your university experience and your mental and physical health.
If you do decide to drink alcohol, drink in moderation to make sure you stay safe and secure.
3 Tips to stay in control:
If you do decide to drink, remember that ‘everything in moderation’ is actually a very apt little phrase. Drinking in moderation means you can have a good time, stay safe and still function as a human being the next day.
Here are some tips to keeping a good balance:
- Drink water between alcoholic drinks: this is the best way to pace yourself and avoid the pounding headache (caused by the dehydrating effects of alcohol) the next day!
- Know your units/measures: We often forget that certain drinks have a very high alcohol content which can be tricky for keeping track of the amount of alcohol that we are having. Knowing your units is a simple way of moderating the amount of alcohol you consume. For more information, click here. A single measure may not seem like a lot, but spirits have a very high alcohol content – try and stick to a single to maintain control.
- Avoid ‘preloading’: ‘pre-drinking’ is a sacred student ritual, but don’t fall prey to ‘preloading’ (drinking a lot in a short space of time.) Alcohol can take a long time to affect your body, so be extremely careful of drinking a lot in a short space of time – it may hit you all at once.
Do I have a problem with alcohol?
Knowing when to stop is essential when we want to stay within the boundaries of moderate drinking. It can be difficult to recognise when an innocent ‘going out for a drink or two’ turns out to be problematic to the point where it becomes an addiction.
Being aware of the symptoms is a simple strategy for spotting the problem. We realise that a drinking culture is present in most universities. Not all students become a part of it, but everyone should be educated on the topic in case they come across it.
You get into problematic drinking when you continue drinking heavily despite alcohol causing harm to you, your family, friends and others. Have a read through the cases below and think about on how many occasions you or somebody else were involved in similar experiences:
- Prioritising alcohol and nights out when planning your budget?
- Getting so drunk you lose your phone/wallet?
- A late night visit to A&E or causing yourself an injury?
- Getting yourself into troubles like fights or self-caused injuries after alcohol consumption?
- Damaging your flat at 3am?
- Being abusive towards a friend after a couple of drinks?
- Experiencing the hangover from hell and not functioning properly the whole day?
- Missing out lectures after a long night of drinking?
- Putting yourself at risks like walking home alone or having unprotected sex while being drunk?
- Ending up at unfamiliar places without realising because of the big amount of alcohol that you had?
- Getting a caution from the Police?
- Blacking out/severe memory loss?
- Spending more on alcohol than you can afford?
If you relate to any of the above it is very likely that on occasion your drinking has become problematic. Problem drinking is when you continue to drink heavily despite alcohol causing harm to you, your family or others. It is not always on our radar that problem drinking can lead to dependent drinking, which is why being Drinkaware and breaking bad habits early can be so important.
You may be alcohol dependent if you:
- Need a drink to stop intrusive thoughts/’the shakes’/other withdrawal symptoms
- Drink early, or first thing in the morning
- Spend lots of time in locations where alcohol is available
- Neglect other interests because of alcohol
- Become tolerant to the effects of alcohol and need to drink more to feel drunk
Other signs of problem drinking include:
- Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking habits
- Hide your drinking from others
- Hear from concerned family members or friends about your drinking
Drinking varies widely from culture to culture and person to person, so it’s not always easy to figure out where the line between social drinking and problem drinking lies. Essentially: if alcohol is disrupting your life in any way, you may have a drinking problem.
Drinking above the recommended safe limits is known as ‘hazardous drinking’. This is because it is more likely to cause you or others harm, for example, falling over or getting in to a fight.
New alcohol guidelines came into effect from January 2016:
- Men and Women should drink no more than 14 units per week – it’s best to spread these units evenly across the week. If you want to cut down the amount you’re drinking, a good way is to have several drink free days a week.
- Pregnant women should not drink at all, as alcohol may harm the baby.
You can use the Drinkaware Unit Calculator to find out how many units are in your drinks of choice or download the Drinkaware phone app. This can be a really useful way of cutting down on your alcohol rather than eliminating it completely.
- Cut down. Keep at least two separate days of the week alcohol-free. Try to make these routine. This gives your body time to recover from the impact of drinking.
- Set a daily limit. For example, if you are on a night out you might want to set yourself a spending limit or stick to one kind of drink.
- Slow down. If you’re going to be in a pub for a few hours, spread your drinks out over the course of the night and have a few non-alcoholic drinks in-between. Take smaller sips or try to keep yourself distracted. Can you take part in the pub quiz? Play pool? Eat?
- Look for alternatives to drinking. If you can work out why you feel drawn to having a drink sometimes you can find an alternative activity that offers you the same outcome. For example, if you are drinking to be social, is there something you can do that doesn’t involve alcohol? Is it to reduce boredom or anxiety, or to control depression or to fit in or feel accepted? If so, there are ways to address these underlying problems in a more positive way.
- Delay your cravings for as long as you can. When you want to drink, put it off for ten minutes, or an hour, or a day, or as long as you can manage, with the promise that if you’re still craving when time runs out you can have a drink then. Urges often disappear by themselves. If you struggle with this, try distracting yourself in the meantime.
- Talk to a professional. Taith, is an open-access and engagement service that supports any student struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. Taith offer a confidential drop-in at our Student Support Service on 50 Park Place. Please email us if you would like to book a slot with them.
- Change for Life – Brought to you by the Welsh Assembly government, this has loads of simple advice for you to improve your health and wellbeing
- E-DAS is the single point of entry in to substance misuse support and treatment in Cardiff.
- Change Grow Live – providing treatment and support – http://www.changegrowlive.org/
- Narcotics Anonymous supports people who have misused narcotic drugs.
- Alcoholics Anonymous provides support for people who want to stop drinking, or have stopped in the past.
- The NHS is a great source of information about drinking and alcohol.
- DrinkAware’s Unit Calculator can be used to check whether you are drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Solas Cymru runs the Footsteps to Recovery support programme for people who are in or are seeking recovery from a substance misuse problem.
- Frank offers friendly and confidential advice about drugs. Phone 0300 123 6600 or text a question to 82111
- Dan is a Wales Drug and Alcohol Helpline. Phone 0808 808 2234 or text DAN to 81066
Contacting Counselling Health & Wellbeing
If you are struggling with problem drinking, please know Cardiff University Support Services are here for you – there is no problem too big or too small and we would be happy to provide you with some support. We offer a range of flexible support options including:
- Counselling and Wellbeing Appointments
- Face to Face, Online or Telephone
- Wellbeing Walk-in: Drop-in Service running Monday to Friday
- Wellbeing Workshops
- Therapeutic Groups
- Wellbeing Champion Support
- Self-help resources
Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire. We also offer a Wellbeing Walk-In Service, Monday to Friday, 3pm to 3.45pm and Wednesday mornings, 9.30am to 10.15am, at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place. We also hold a walk-in service at our Student Support Centre in Cardigan House at the Heath, on Wednesday afternoons 3pm to 3.45pm.
Watch our video and see for yourself that we have friendly and approachable staff. Staff who are able to listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.
If talking to a member of staff is something you are not sure about, why not chat to one of our Student Wellbeing Champions. They are trained student volunteers who can signpost you to support, offer you a peer ear and give you basic health and wellbeing advice. If you would like to see our Champions in action, check out their video.
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options.
Your feedback and help please
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Amy and Rachel, Wellbeing Practitioners, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Team.
Your Student Life, Supported.
The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.
The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus. For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.