‘Put yourself first’: Students reflect on sobriety in college


Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor

A student places a can of alcoholic seltzer into a fridge.

By Katie Cassidy, Senior Staff Writer

While Baheen Huzan recognizes the “natural temptation” to drink and go to parties in college, she said staying sober is a personal choice that she prides herself on — and encourages others who want to stay sober to be confident in their choice.

“If you have your personal values and want to refrain from drinking alcohol, that is something that should be applauded and encouraged,” Huzan, a sophomore history major, said.

Drinking is prevalent in the college setting, where more than half of students aged 18 to 22 drink alcohol regularly. Despite the prevalence, not all students partake, whether that be for religious or personal reasons.

Huzan said her decision to remain sober is based on two main factors — her values as a Muslim and personal preferences. Huzan said she works to follow her faith “to the best of her ability,” which includes not partaking in alcohol or drug consumption. She said besides her faith, she personally likes staying away from “foreign” substances.

“I don’t like the feeling of a foreign entity having control over me,” Huzan said. “I like to be in control of my senses, maintain consciousness and limit chemical imbalances that could be caused by alcohol or substances.”

A University press release said the reduction of social events and gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant “fewer opportunities for social drinking.” But one study published last year found that alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic and “widespread alcohol support” is needed.

In the Pitt press release, Duncan Clark, a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, said higher consumption levels were driven “partly” by increases in solitary drinking — which also presents as a sign of “alcohol problems.”

“We’ve done some research on solitary drinking and found that, as you might expect, drinking alone is a characteristic that’s common in people who have alcohol problems,” Clark said. 

Jack Johnson, a junior English major, said he witnessed friends deal with alcohol-related issues — such as addiction or dependency — over the years. By living sober, Johnson said he does not have to worry about these issues or side effects. Instead, he likes to focus his attention on helping friends if they ever need it.

“I feel like I have less to worry about, given the side effects from drinking that I have heard about,” Johnson said. “A main benefit I like is being the designated sober person. I’m glad to help my friends.”

For Johnson, his decision to remain sober was mainly due to the taste of alcohol, more so than anything else. Johnson said his family and friends have had him try different alcohol on several occasions — especially after his 21st birthday — but he realized over time it wasn’t for him.

“My family likes tasting beer on holidays, and I’ve tried it, but it has just never tasted good to me,” Johnson said. “I’m not anti-drinking in any way. I just don’t want to force myself to drink something that doesn’t taste good, and then get a weird feeling.”

Huzan said she witnesses the stress brought on by classes and the pandemic, and sees this contribute to increased drinking and dependency. She said finding a good balance with schoolwork and personal life has helped her lean away from needing such a dependency.

“I think there is a direct correlation between the stress and anxiety that is heightened by the pandemic and how much a person depends on alcohol,” Huzan said. “For me, I do have my moments of stress, but I talk to friends or do something I enjoy. It’s important to have healthier outlets.”

The University press release said students themselves, or friends and family members of students, can reach out to the University Counseling Center for help approaching sobriety. Jay Darr, director of the UCC, provided a few tips on how to help someone dealing with substance abuse:

  • Let the person talk and listen to them without judgment.
  • Reassure them that support is available.
  • Don’t try to minimize problems or shame the person into changing.

Johnson said students looking to become or stay sober should focus on putting themselves and their interests before the needs or wants of others. He said the college environment may apply pressure to drink, but if someone wants to stay sober they should feel comfortable and confident in doing so.

“Put yourself first,” Johnson said. “If people judge you for not wanting to drink because you don’t feel like it, then they’re probably not the people you want to be hanging out with.”