“I learned it in England where indeed they are most potent in potting.” These words uttered in Othello convey the long and fabled relationship that we in this country have with alcohol. But even in his Elizabethan stupor, William Shakespeare couldn’t have anticipated the extent of Britain’s drinking culture today. This is something most freshers are all too familiar with, as the first few weeks of university are a haze of partying and drinking. Is this becoming a problem that needs to be dealt with?
Alcohol education charity Drinkaware states that “Six in ten people aged 18-24 say they drink with the intention of getting drunk at least occasionally.” Some students choose not to drink at all, however many believe that they have to be drunk to enjoy themselves.
A survey in 2014 found that amongst the 60% of university students who consumed alcohol, 40% engaged in binge drinking. Drinking culture seems to be dominating university life, and thus encourages a dangerous relationship with alcohol
Drinking culture seems to be dominating university life
It’s often the case that students aren’t aware of how many units are in their drink, and how easy it is to go over the limit. Although the warning sticker on the back of a drink states how many units it contains, many tend to ignore this. Moreover, buying a drink in a club or pub setting comes with no such warning on its packaging. As a result, people can end up consuming higher levels of alcohol than they anticipated, sometimes with dangerous effects on their health.
An NHS report released in 2017 suggested that more people are engaging in unsafe drinking behaviour, as the number of deaths related to alcohol consumption has increased by 10% since 2005. What’s more, the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption has risen by 22% in the same period.
the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption has risen by 22%
There seems to be significant pressure on students to drink. This is particularly true for sports teams, as drinking plays a key role in socials and initiations. ‘Lad culture’ dominates university social life, with many feeling the need to drink excessively in order to fit in during their first weeks at university. This eventually becomes a regular activity that students maintain during their course.
Peer pressure largely influences dangerous drinking behaviour, as many sense that there is a genuine expectation to get involved with it. Some students are eager to boast about the ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle, and those who feel less able to say no can be pressured into consuming more drinks than they are actually comfortable with.
The majority of students who occasionally indulge in addictive substances often come to no long-term harm, but this isn’t always the case. The stress of university life can lead students to use alcohol as a coping method, as their addictive patterns leave little room for other anxiety provoking issues. This addictive behaviour can sabotage a student’s opportunities, and even put them at risk of death.
The stress of university life can lead students to use alcohol as a coping method
Students are slowly destroying their lives without even realising that they are doing so. In an article in the Guardian, Dr Chris Record, a leading liver specialist at Newcastle Freeman Hospital said that “the commonest cause of death in young people, students for instance, is alcohol…They drink too much, they’re sick, and they go and fall under a bus or they fall from a great height, and they kill themselves.”
Tragic case studies from recent years unfortunately show this statement to be true. In January, a student from Durham died after falling from a tower in Tokyo whilst drunk on New Year’s Eve. Charlie Bartlett, from Manchester University, also died in May after falling from a crane that he had climbed whilst drunk. The costs to student life are considerably high, and more needs to done to ensure that students aren’t at risk as a result of their behaviour.
The costs to student life are considerably high
The low rates at student bars are an issue for those who don’t know when to stop. Cheap booze allows for students to drink to excess and thus cause considerable damage to their physical and psychological health. Selling alcohol at low priced rates undermines the university’s efforts to prevent extreme drinking and significant alcohol abuse.
However, it is not just students who tend to consume too much alcohol. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that Britain is the second biggest binge-drinking nation in Europe. Drinking alcohol is an activity prominent in British culture, and although having a few drinks to celebrate seems harmless, the overall costs are alarming.
Britain is the second biggest binge-drinking nation in Europe
Statistics show that binge drinking costs UK taxpayers £4.9 billion a year; equivalent to £77 a person. It also increases the number of daily injury-related A&E attendances by 8%, and the daily average of road accidents by 17%. Additionally, the same research found that binge drinking causes an increase in the number of police officers on duty of 30% in order to cope with alcohol-related incidents. These incidences vary, but the worst case scenario, a fatal incident as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, can cost tax payers £2 million.
Some possible solutions have been suggested to combat excessive drinking in order to reduce the costs to society. The SNP has been trying to implement a minimum price of 50p per unit in the aim to address the nation’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Supporters of minimum pricing believe the move is necessary since alcohol is 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980. However, those critical of such proposals argue that although it would reduce overall consumption of alcohol, it would not prevent binge drinking.
Another suggested solution would involve pubs and bars discouraging rounds. In this case it is argued that an individual’s awareness of their own purchases of alcohol are a key factor in increasing their awareness of how much they have consumed. Thus they are more likely to quit before they reach dangerous levels.
Many universities could also do more to guarantee that there are more socials during the evenings that do not revolve around alcohol, ensuring that excessive drinking doesn’t become the primary activity for socialising. What’s more, the students’ union could publicise statistics concerning alcohol usage and its effects. An increased awareness of the consequences of alcohol consumption amongst might help to contribute to a change in behaviour. In a recent study, a third of student respondents said that as a result of drinking they had been a passenger in a car with a drunk driver. The same study detailed that 7% of students had been unable to pay their bills due to drinking. This might well shock some into reconsidering their habits.
Statistics might also be helpful in illuminating the rise in teetotal young people, with the past 10 years seeing an increase of 40% in the number of 16-24 year olds who don’t drink. This might well point to a cultural shift that is taking place and help to contribute to changing social norms around alcohol. In addition, repeated exposure to this information might lead students to question their current assumptions and thus help to tackle binge drinking.
British culture does not have a healthy relationship with alcohol, but it is possible for our drinking culture to change. Cultural shifts are not uncommon, and solutions that aim to combat dangerous drinking behaviour have had some success. However, some argue that for anti-drinking campaigns to be truly effective, they need to adjust the messages that they transmit.
some argue that for anti-drinking campaigns to be truly effective, they need to adjust the messages that they transmit
Kate Fox, director of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), argued that alcohol education campaigns have “perpetuated or exacerbated the problem” by reinforcing the idea that alcohol is associated with undesirable behaviours. This means that alcohol is not integrated into daily life, and therefore campaigns fail to discourage dangerous drinking behaviour.
The cause of dangerous drinking behaviour lies within our culture’s attitude towards alcohol. If our culture believes that drinking leads to confidence, promiscuity and aggression then we are more likely to act this way, says Kate Fox, as the effects of alcohol are determined by our cultural norms.
The cost of dangerous drinking behaviour is significant; therefore, our culture needs to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. If alcohol awareness campaigns address drinking as an everyday activity, Britain may lose its ambivalent attitude towards alcohol. Binge drinking is on the rise, but we need to know where to draw the line.