Between jobs, internships, and classes it can be hard for students to find time to unwind and let loose. After a crazy day, going out partying can be a fun and exciting way to hang out with friends and forget about your to-do list for a few hours.
Although parties are a swell time, there’s a fine line between having fun and getting out of control. Before you know it, excessive partying can start negatively affecting your health, life, and studies.
If you or a friend is struggling with keeping your party habits under control, read on for reliable advice from Online Counsellor and registered psychologist, Richard Thorpe, about monitoring your going-out habits.
Richard’s role at the University is both to promote healthy behaviour and to support students struggling with difficult issues, such as mental health, relationships, drugs and alcohol, and other addictive problem behaviours via technology. This is so all students, no matter if they are on or off campus, can access these valuable tools and resources wherever and whenever needed.
What does the ‘party smart’ message entail?
“I guess you could call the term ‘party smart’ or ‘harm minimisation’ a realistic message, rather than an idealistic message,” Richard said. “The harm minimisation approach assumes that drug and alcohol use, both licit and illicit, is an inevitable part of society and we have to deal with that reality.”
To deal with the issue effectively we must accept and acknowledge that drug and alcohol use occurs across a continuum, ranging from occasional use to dependent use, and that a range of harms are associated to different types and patterns of AOD use.
Richard said a range of approaches can be used to respond to these harms with the aim of minimising harm, hence ‘harm minimisation’. An idealistic message might be ‘say no to drugs’, whereas a harm minimisation message might be ‘party smart’, or ‘party safe’.
What kind of risks are associated with unsafe partying?
“One thing to bear in mind is that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, especially the circuits associated with risk-taking behaviour, hence why young people can sometimes act recklessly,” Richard said.
There are risks of partying unsafely aplenty; risk of death from misadventure or overdose is a reality.
Physically, brain development can be adversely affected. Depending on the drug or alcohol type, mental illness can ensue including depression, anxiety, and addiction. Socially, you can damage friendships by acting impulsively. And legally, one might even be convicted of a criminal offence which could impact your university enrolment.
What are some tips to ensure partying does not negatively impact upon your studies?
To make sure that partying does not begin to impact negatively upon your studies or enrolment at university, it’s important to remember the 3 P’s: Prioritise, Plan and Prevent.
While at university, many students wish to achieve the best results, therefore prioritising study and wellbeing (both physical and mental) is important. Depending on finances, you may also have to factor in some part-time work to help keep your finances looking healthy too.
Richard said study, wellbeing and work should be the priority. But there will still be plenty of time to party, so planning partying around your main priorities will ensure there is minimal disruption.
“Remember that it is important to recover well after partying, so plan to prevent fatigue, hangovers and overdose,” he said. “If you have a big Friday night out, it may write your brain off for the whole weekend, with low energy, motivation and inability to focus.”
To try and tone down partying habits, it’s best to work on learning how to prioritise your time. Students often want to party to relieve stress, almost self-medicating by partying. For a more permanent stress-release, decide how to make your schedule work for you and take care of yourself by making time for enough rest and other healthy habits.
How can you party in a safe and measured manner?
Of course, university students can still party! But to do it in a safe way should be a top priority. One thing that Richard advises is to plan ahead.
“Henry Ford once said, ‘Those that fail to plan, plan to fail’.” Without a plan, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and forget how much alcohol or other drugs we are consuming. Richard said to decide on a drink limit and stick to it.
“Occupy your hands with soft drink or water once you’ve reached your limit, so you are not tempted to keep buying alcoholic drinks,” he said. “Avoid ‘shouts’ or drinking games; you are more likely to make silly or even dangerous decisions when you have had too much to drink”
Also plan how to get home – for example, take enough money to share a taxi or Uber, or nominate a designated driver to stay sober. Get a mate or mates to keep you on plan.
What is the best way to organise your lifestyle and/or study schedule?
There are several options available on campus where students can access Student Mentors for the first six weeks of semester, and you can also join a Peer Assisted Study Session, which may provide additional support to establish a regular study routine.
Student Services offer support to students in relation to drug and alcohol issues and counsellors can also help with time management and managing stress. Richard said you can think of a counsellor as a kind of life coach that will help you prioritise, plan and then provide support in being disciplined to keep to the plan.
“If partying is interfering with studies, then a counsellor can help to find a solution,” he said. “We have counsellors available for both face to face and online appointments to support students struggling with difficult issues and, as part of the team, we also have a dedicated Drug and Alcohol Counsellor.”
The online counselling team have also recently launched the new UON eCliPSE portal, which provides a set of free online treatment programs for students who are wanting to improve with mental health or reduce alcohol or other drug use. eCliPSE allows you to complete some initial questionnaires to receive feedback about your mood and substance use, and a recommendation on the most appropriate program to help manage it.
The UON website also has the anonymous THRIVE Survey which asks questions about your alcohol use and provides personalised feedback on your partying habits, drinking, possible health impacts, and how your alcohol use compares to other university students.
What else can you do to lead a ‘party smart’ lifestyle?
Lead by example. Richard said it is important to have many strong student leaders to maintain a presence on and off campus to spread the ‘party smart’ and ‘harm minimisation’ message.
“People like to follow, and so having strong and visible student leaders, ambassadors and advocates for safe partying can help to build a party safe culture.”