By Ryan Gould
A woman whose alcoholism saw her jailed for sending malicious tweets has offered to help Durham students stay safe while drinking.
Once a ‘Twitter troll’, Isabella Sorley was jailed for 12 weeks in 2013 after sending offensive tweets to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez while drunk.
Sorely, who has been alcohol-free for six months, wants to use her past experiences to encourage Durham students to reflect on their relationship with alcohol.
Sorley, a 24-year-old from Newcastle, founded the not-for-profit social enterprise, ‘Rethink Drink’, with help from the Prince’s Trust. She is hoping to use the initiative to tackle youth binge drinking.
“We believe that education and awareness is key in preventing binge drinkers developing problematic alcohol issues,” Isabella told Palatinate.
“As a result of creative interventions and hard-hitting, real-life workshops, young people will become more aware of their drinking habits, and will become ambassadors for healthy, enjoyable drinking lifestyles.”
Sorley said that Rethink Drink’s workshops are based on her own personal experiences with binge drinking. “My drinking started at university. I wasn’t really a drinker [before starting university], yet I wasn’t some sort of nun who didn’t drink at all.”
“Engulfed in the culture of Freshers’ Week, I went out on a daily basis to drink to excess” Isabella told Palatinate, also making reference to the idea that the only way to make friends upon arriving at university was to become immersed in the student drinking culture, and “drunkenly become best friends.”
Aside from missing several lectures, the only consequences of Isabella’s actions were “trips to A&E and massive hangovers.”
Sorley explained how her alcoholism reached its worst point in her third year, when she was sometimes arrested three times per week.
“I got on first name terms with the city centre Police Officers. Looking back now, although I was being arrested, it had no implication on my life.
“I was banned from the city centre pubs, and that did have implications on my social life, so I drank at home.”
At the height of her addiction, Sorley assaulted a police officer six times, but still managed to graduate from Leeds University with a 2:1 in 2012.
Following her graduation, Isabella tried to stay in Leeds, but said that being banned from the city centre ruined her social life, prompting her to move back to Newcastle.
Even following her release from prison, Sorley failed to recognise her addiction, saying: “I wish I’d got help earlier. Actually, I wish I’d acknowledged I had an addiction earlier.”
“Inevitably, I reoffended and ended up back in prison. I wish I’d listened to my friends and family.”
Making reference to the new measures being introduced to ensure the safety of Durham students during evenings out, Sorley claimed that punishing for students for their drunken behaviour is the wrong solution.
“Speaking from personal experience, the reason I never sorted out my drinking earlier was because I kept on getting away with it. Just a fine, and even then the court told me I only had to pay £5 per week, which is nothing.”
Sorley thinks punishing students on evenings out is a “quick fix,” which fails to address long-term issues.
“Addressing the real problem will only come from raising awareness and educating those involved, which is what Rethink Drink is all about”.
Photograph: Isabella Sorley