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It’s a Saturday night and you’re at your mate’s house, watching him fill shot glasses to the brim with vodka. Empty beer bottles and crushed red cups are strewn across the floor around you. Kings Cup is being played at the table. Champagne flutes clink together as a group of girls take their ninth Boomerang for the night. Your friend pours you a drink: Jack and Coke. “No thanks,” you say. “You’re only young once, just have some fun!”, she says. You have work at 8 am tomorrow and a lab report due at 5 pm. She chants your name and suddenly the whole room is too. You down the drink.

For many students across Australia, drinking alcohol is somewhat of a rite of passage, as University has become synonymous with partying and clubbing—but at what risk? According to the report Alcohol in the University Setting by McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Curtin University, adults aged 18–24 years were more likely to drink at harmful levels on a single occasion than the rest of the adult population. A striking 42 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds drank at levels that put them at risk of injury on a single occasion at least monthly.

The report notes the intoxicating effects of drinking at such dangerously high levels are more than just a hangover: missing classes, failing to complete assignments, drink driving and regrettable sexual encounters were all reported. And of course, we all know the deadly social and health impacts of excessive drinking—so, what can we drink instead?

Sian Reed founded Club Soda in 2018 to offer non-drinkers the opportunity to drink great tasting, enjoyable alcohol-free beverages. She also took Club Soda through the Ignition Program at Curtin University, which was a week-long program teaching marketing, investment, finance and networking skills.

Recent research has shown alcohol to be the most harmful drug in Australia due to the damaging rippling effect it causes to both the self and others. Having also worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor, Sian was exposed on a daily basis the scary impacts excessive drinking can have.

“Being a drug and alcohol counsellor, you work with someone for 50 minutes a day and then you are kind of sending them back into a community that is just reinforcing their unhealthy relationship with alcohol and I just felt like this is not the most effective use of my time – there must be a better way to help people who are struggling with alcohol use disorders,” Sian says.

“So that was kind of the reason I created Club Soda as well, to create a more positive message around being a non-drinker and kind of creating a narrative that wasn’t just about being a recovering addict—it’s kind of really brave to go against the social norms and just say ‘No, this something I’m not going to do’. So, I really wanted there to be a positive voice out there for that.”

The sobering truth is that young adults these days are drinking to get drunk—not because they enjoy the taste of alcohol. It is difficult however when you’re in a social setting and your peers are questioning or pressuring you. Sian explained one way to cut down on drinking is by opting for a non-alcoholic beer because people are less likely to ask you about why you’re not drinking if you’ve got something that looks like alcohol.

“I think you still want to feel pampered when you go out. You still want something that tastes really interesting. Try to find the places in Perth that have really interesting mocktail lists. There are some popping up that have non-alcoholic beers which is really cool too. I think that is a really good way to manage it,” she said.

When she first decided to cut down on alcohol a few years ago, peer pressure aside, she realised a sober night out was no easy feat. Sian would go up to the bar and ask what non-alcoholic drinks were available only to be met by judge-y and ‘sassy responses’ from bartenders. Attitude aside, the only options most bars and clubs offered were Coke, Diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite.

“That kind of happened a couple of times and I was like there must be better options than this, it really sucks, because there are so many other people who don’t drink alcohol,” she says.

“I started exploring what was happening in Europe and found all these really cool non-alcoholic drinks were coming out, but it was really hard to get them into Australia. No one else was doing it so I decided to start my own business.”

Sian hopes Club Soda will eventually produce their own products, with her goal being to start up a non-alcoholic wine business. Cutting down on alcohol doesn’t mean you have to give up being social, having fun or enjoying great tasting drinks. She believes that true friends will respect a person’s decision to say no to alcohol, and if anything that acceptance will be a way to discover which of your friends really care for and value you.

“You really work out the ones who are there for you and the ones who maybe just want a drinking buddy to go out with on the weekends. I think just be really confident and brave with it because to go against the social norm is a really great thing to do,” she says.

Club Soda proves cutting back on alcohol doesn’t have to be boring. It’s all about having fun, being positive and looking after your health (and your tastebuds!). For more tips on how to drink yourself sober, visit https://www.clubsoda.net.au/blogs/news.