The beginning of February is an emotional time of year for students. The joy of exam results and the excitement of Valentine’s Day are always a call for celebration. Probably the biggest celebration for students this time of year, though, is the ending of the ‘Dry January’ campaign. Across the University, hundreds of students took part in this fundraiser by being sober for the whole month. Throughout January, students may have found this lifestyle quite rewarding. But how does university life change if being sober went on for longer than a month?
My friend James Herdman can help answer this question. From September last year, he decided to go a whole 100 days without any alcohol or cigarettes for charity. And trust me, this was a true endeavour for a man whose student career previously involved more trips to Fifth than to lectures.
James is resitting third-year in an economics and politics degree. Like some students, he has an interest in fitness, clubbing, and online gambling. In fact, it was the internet which was the initial inspiration for the challenge. “In summer I watched a review of Doug Polk (a YouTuber) going 100 days sober and I umm’d and ahh’d about the idea before thinking… why not give it a bash?”
By August, the plans for the challenge were getting into full swing. Personal goals were being set by James in all aspects of life — “I really wanted to improve attendance and general performance at uni, going to the gym six times a week in the process.”
The challenge became even more appealing to James after he realised how much alcohol dominates adolescent life: “speaking to my friends, none of us can remember the last time we hadn’t had a drink for more than a fortnight since we were 16!” He was beginning to realise that students drank far too much.
Reflecting on conversations with James at the time I could sense the excitement in his Yorkshire accent. The sacrifice was becoming more than just an act of personal achievement — it was forming into a health campaign for students.
Overall, the 100 days were a huge success. James’ social life surprisingly didn’t take a hit at all. He spent the money that he would usually slide across the bar at The Friendship on nice meals in Manchester’s restaurants instead. He also visited the cinema so much that he decided to put this to use and start his own film podcast (The Final Cut) on Fuse FM.
Reflecting on the general results of the 100 days, he noticed many healthy habits: “Without drinking, well-being gets better beyond belief… less anxiety, more sleep, and of course less hangovers.” An experience I imagine most participants of Dry January also shared.
But by the sounds of it, you really notice significant gains after 3 months sober. The facts are these: With the gym he went 53 times in 100 days, gaining 8lbs of muscle in the process. “I feel amazing, once I had been to the gym, I’d feel great all day and so much more confident in myself.” To put this achievement into perspective, this is the equivalent of gaining approximately 4kg – or 5% – of James’ total body weight before the challenge. As alcohol seriously damages the ability for muscle growth, a noticeable change in appearance can quickly be seen by going sober.
The maths doesn’t stop there. James’ performance in other hobbies also improved. He was winning so much at poker he was earning a satisfactory wage for a student. “In 143 hours of poker I earned an average of £8.10 per hour, that was more than I was earning when I worked at Spoons!” Without the influence of alcohol or the cravings for a cigarette at the poker table, James was making more conservative and less irrational decisions, bettering his overall performance.
It also turns out you do not need statistics to notice the improvements in your life. “I learnt a lot about my mates during the challenge, you really notice who is a genuine friend beyond a drinking buddy.” I personally feel this is quite an unexpected and important benefit, especially for a final year student. Relying on alcohol for entertainment is not sustainable after graduation when the real world of employment hits us in the face.
With graduation on topic, James feels it will be a happier occasion than it was for him last year. “I’m more involved in modules with more time to read and a clearer head, my exam results aren’t out yet, but they have absolutely improved!” It goes without saying that more visits to Fifth than university was a contributing factor for the need to redo final year.
It turns out alcohol and cigarettes really eat into your time more than you imagine. The few minute cigarette breaks and the morning hangovers can really rack up.
So, what advice does James offer to other students who are hoping to achieve the same? “Do it for a charitable cause so you feel better about yourself and to help others with alcohol-related problems.” There are numerous charity platforms online for students.
Websites such as JustGiving are financially safe and easy to use. He also advises to get someone else involved with the challenge,“It’s really important to do it with someone. It means you always have someone who is up for gyming or eating out when others are off to 256.”
So, if you’re reminiscing of the good times of going to university and a lack of morning paracetamol during Dry January, maybe the 100 days is the next step for you.