Student Jasper was an alcoholic
‘I was either drunk or a wreck’
Jasper wakes up after a night of drinking while on holiday with his friends, only to discover he can’t get up. All his muscles have stopped working, and he can’t keep his balance. His friends take him to the hospital, where doctors run all kinds of tests. His liver is twice the size it should be. The doctors ask him, how much do you drink? ‘If I’d been alone I would have lied’, says Jasper. But his friends are with him, and they tell the doctors the truth. Jasper: ‘The doctor told me: “You’re an alcoholic”.’
That was the moment the 23-year-old economics student was forced to face the truth: he was addicted to alcohol. The year leading up to his stay in the hospital, he was drinking every day. Alcohol drowned everything out: his feelings, his worries. He couldn’t sleep without alcohol; he couldn’t function. But he wasn’t exactly functioning on alcohol either.
It started with beer. He had been drinking beer with friends since he was fifteen. During the KEI week he drank too much and had his first panic attack. ‘And the panic just became worse after that. I suffered from anxiety and became depressed. I wanted to numb all my feelings. Alcohol gave me peace.’
He was soon unable to sleep without drinking first. ‘If I didn’t drink I wouldn’t sleep all night. I was constantly living in fear. Around, three, four o’clock at night you lose all sense of reality. I was having delusions. It was awful. I’d be sitting on the couch, just waiting for the sun to come up. Only then would I start feeling better.’
If I didn’t drink I wouldn’t sleep all night. I was constantly living in fear.
Whenever he tried to abstain from alcohol for an evening, he always caved and went to buy a bottle at the nearest 24-hour shop. ‘In Groningen, you can buy alcohol whenever you want. You don’t even have to go the shops if you don’t want. I often had alcohol delivered at home. I didn’t even care what kind. Rum, whisky, vodka: whatever was cheapest. Bottom shelf stuff.’
He hid his habit from people easily. Whenever he spent a weekend at his parents’ house, he would have a beer with his father. As soon as his dad went to bed, Jasper would break out his own beer stash. ‘You get really good at hiding your problems.’
‘I wouldn’t throw out all the bottles at once; I’d take several trips to the container. No one was keeping an eye on me. My parents lived in Gelderland, a few hours away. I lived in a studio apartment with no roommates. No one pays attention to you at the university. I skipped classes for a year. No one noticed.’
He doesn’t remember what he did during the year that he drank every day. ‘Not dying? That’s pretty much what it came down to. I always told myself I would do something, that I would quit, but I never did. I was so far gone, drinking all the time, sleeping poorly. Either you drink and you’re drunk all the time, or you don’t drink and you’re a nervous wreck.’
I lost my connections to everything; the city, other students
‘It became a vicious cycle. I drank to numb my feelings, but the alcohol only made them worse. I lost my connections to everything; the city, other students. I never went to the university anymore. It’s a vicious cycle, both physically and socially. I didn’t do anything.’
He didn’t talk to anyone about his problems. ‘And no one ever asked me about it. When people asked how I was I would automatically says I was well, because that’s expected. Some friends knew I was drinking too much, but it’s very hard to tell your friend that they have a problem or that they’re addicted. Especially when you’re all just twenty years old.’
But after he landed in the hospital, his friends got involved. They forced him to quit drinking immediately. ‘It was the motivation I needed. When I stopped drinking I went through withdrawal. I became delusional, started hearing voices. I was trembling all the time. I felt like I was dying. That lasted a week. After that, I started feeling somewhat normal again. In the end, I came through it pretty well. I thought that in order to get clean I’d have to go to a clinic, but my friends helped me through it.’
When Jasper returned to Groningen after his holiday, he booked an appointment with his GP, who referred him to the VNN for treatment. ‘I talked to psychologist once a week. We talked about how I felt, what had led to my alcoholism. Now that I was sober, I could look back on my life and see how pathetic it had been.’ The drinking and lack of exercise meant he weighed 160 kilos. ‘I had to get rid of that.’
Treatment helped get his life back on track. ‘They had me do small things at first: I had to leave the house every day.’ It was easy at first, but he had difficulty finding the motivation to keep at it. He was aching for results: he wanted to feel better and start sleeping right away, but it took a while before he started feeling different. ‘It took almost a year.’
Jasper has been sober since August 2016. ‘The first year I was sober I was just trying to get my life back together and become a functional human being again. The second year I went back to school and started exercising and losing weight. I’ve been back at my normal weight since the beginning of this year, and now I’m looking for ways to challenge myself. I want to figure out what I like to do and get myself a hobby. I have a normal life again. There is so much to do, and I want to try so much. I have a multi-year plan.’
I don’t like beer. I like twenty beers
He joins his friends on nights out. ‘At first it was difficult to go out without drinking. Alcohol just made the whole thing easier. I finally went with a couple of good friends that I trusted. To be honest, going out without drinking is pretty cool. It’s so cheap, and getting to class the next morning is easy. I really enjoy it now. I can get into the flow of it and no one’s looking at me.’
He doesn’t feel the need to drink anymore. ‘Alcohol solved a problem that I don’t have anymore – I don’t feel anxiety anymore.’ He’s never relapsed. ‘I don’t want to drink; I know now that I don’t actually like beer. I like twenty beers.’
Not the only one
Now that he’s sober, he wants to help young people who are going through the same thing. For VNN, he gives lectures to various groups ranging from school doctors to high school students. In December, he told his story for a live online broadcast.
‘Once I started talking about my problems, it turned out I wasn’t the only one. That’s why I want to tell my story. That’s my goal: to help students and young adults with their alcohol problems.’
If you want to get in touch with him, he would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jasper’s full name is known to the editorial staff.