Turn2Me promotes ‘Sober October’, in an aim to highlight the impact of alcohol on mental health.

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The mental health charity is encouraging Irish people to get involved in the sobriety month ahead of the shortening days of autumn.

‘Sober October’, or ‘Sober for October’, was coined by Macmillan as part of a fundraising initiative, whereby individuals are encouraged to stay sober for the month of October, and donate the money they would have spent on alcohol to the cancer charity.

Turn2Me, a national mental health charity based in Ireland, is approaching the month of sobriety from a different angle. The charity is using Sober October to highlight the impacts of alcohol on mental health, as the days become shorter, and cases of ill mental health spike. This is due to the strain of the holiday period, and increases in the severity of Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (SAD). 

“Reducing or cutting out alcohol can improve our mental health,” Fiona O’Malley, CEO of Turn2Me, said in a press statement about the charities support of the sobriety month, “Alcohol is a depressant. Our moods can significantly improve when we reduce or stop drinking entirely. Setting yourself a challenge of giving up alcohol for a month can help you to adopt a healthier lifestyle.”

This campaign comes alongside the first full return to campus since the COVID-19 pandemic shut doors in March 2020. It also comes alongside the first Freshers week that allowed for on-campus alcoholic events since the beginning of the pandemic. As such, the topics of student drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol dependency have come back into the fore.

Binge drinking among students is no new phenomenon - articles can be found dating back to the noughties from papers such as the Independent, and sites such as Joe.ie, which expound upon unhealthy drinking habits among students and on university campuses. While it may seem now that students have a substantially healthier approach to alcohol than what used to be the case, recent surveys indicate otherwise. 

In 2015, Joe.ie posted an article outlining that two in three college students drink hazardous amounts of alcohol every week. Just last year, in 2021, a study published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science put forward that 60.2% of college age Irish drinkers binge drink monthly, and 54% of those under 25 engage in binge drinking as a part of a standard drinking session. This is compounded upon by a survey conducted in 2017, reported on by the College Tribune, that found 85% of UCD students were unaware of what constitutes binge drinking.

With mental health services remaining at a crisis point in UCD, many have raised the question of how ethical it is for drinking to be promoted on campus. As O’Malley states in her press statement promoting Sober October, “Many people use alcohol as a social crutch, and they can start to rely on it in stressful or awkward situations.” And this is no different in student circles, with many students citing social anxieties as their initial reason for drinking. Her statement concludes, “A month-long challenge like Sober October can make us consider how reliant we are on alcohol, why we consume alcohol, and how much happier we feel when we don’t drink as much or at all.”

When asked for her stance on the topic of student drinking, UCDSU Welfare Officer Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich outlined her stance as such, “I think whether we like it or not, alcohol is a big part of life at college, and forms an element of a lot of social activities for students. I'm not in the business of dictating what students should do but I think it is important people are informed about alcohol consumption, and able to identify when their drinking or the drinking of those around them has gotten out of control, and access support.”

As for Sober October, Nic Fhionnlaoich was more cautious in her perspective of the month's potential impact. “While sobriety months can shed a light on the reliance some people have on alcohol, something they may not even notice in their day to day, I'm not sure that they have much long term impact. The narrative of going off alcohol for a month as a challenge, only to return to old habits the following month may not be the right approach to reducing alcohol consumption in the long term. However, they do have a value in drawing attention to alcohol consumption and people's struggles with alcoholism.”

Students who are worried about their alcohol consumption can contact the HSE Drugs and Alcohol helpline at 1800 459 459, between 9:30am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.