Does university culture contribute to a British drinking problem?
Charlie Carter discusses the drinking culture at British universities and offers some helpful tips on how to drink responsibly.
Victoria Richards’ article, ‘Why we all need to reassess our relationship with booze,’ featured in The Independent, offers a sobering (pun intended!) reflection on the negative side of university drinking culture. She raises concerns about alcohol being upheld as an essential part of the ‘typical’ British university experience and questions the wider consequences of such behaviour. To what extent do these anxieties resonate with the students of today, particularly with the growing anticipation for Freshers’ Week?
For some first-year students, Freshers is the opportunity of a lifetime and what they’ve been waiting for. The week-long promise of freedom and hilarity; meeting new people, going to socials, getting sideways off a bottle of Saunder’s Czaar – what more could uni offer? But for others, the idea of immersing yourself in drinking culture is something to be dreaded, not celebrated.
Coming from a background where alcohol wasn’t allowed, or even present, straight into a week of boozing may be a frightening feeling to these students, not an exciting one. No one talks about how hard it is to be anxious instead of excited about the university drinking culture. The fear of humiliation that comes with not being able to hold your drink and the FOMO of being the only sober one at a social can be enough to encourage you to cancel your plans.
University societies insist that drinking is not obligatory for socials and yet, for some of us, this is not how it feels. Sports societies especially have been criticised for encouraging excessive alcohol consumption, rewarding the members who are well-versed in chopping pints while humiliating those who haven’t yet learnt how to “open their throat.”
But this is a much bigger issue than rowdy hockey socials. The universal acceptance of alcohol’s negative effects as mere casualties of a “good night out,” is creating a culture that idolises drinking and ignores its dangers. The fact that it is not uncommon to see unconscious bodies being dragged home by their sweating friends is a testament to the extent to which we are willing to ignore the risks of alcohol, particularly within the context of university.
The universal acceptance of alcohol’s negative effects as just casualties of “good nights out,” creates a culture that idolises alcohol and ignores its dangers
Almost everyone has a story of calling the ambulance for a friend who had a few too many shots, or has heard someone’s £9 TP Venom resurfacing in the girls’ bathroom. Most of the time, these stories are narrated in third-person because the star of the show themselves has no memory whatsoever of the event.
Memory loss, unconsciousness and unrelenting vomiting spells are symptoms of alcohol poisoning or worse, but as soon as someone mentions alcohol, it no longer seems to be a medical concern.
The Office for National Statistics has reported a “statistically significant” increase of alcohol-related deaths and illnesses over the recent year, and yet we continue to treat shots like Haribos. Normalising unhealthy relationships with alcohol during the first weeks of adulthood is an undeniable stepping stone towards creating a society of individuals who have not been taught the importance of drinking responsibly. Or even how to.
We have a gut reaction to the expression “Drinking responsibly” as a slogan that insists upon being boring and sober when the reality of it is distinctly not-sober and a lot safer.
Here are some tips I would give students on how to drink responsibly while at university.
Know your limits
Staying tipsy instead of leveling up to blackout halfway through the night is life-changing. Not only can you actually remember the events of the night, get home on your own two feet, and keep the drinks that are draining your finances inside your body, but you still get the alcoholic buzz that you drink for in the first place. Freshers, drinking water and eating food will not make your night boring, it will make it sustainable. That is, you won’t turn into a human slug or puke on your friend’s shoes. If you’re going to drink, do it safely and for god’s sake, not daily. Your liver will thank you.
Don’t drink at socials if you don’t want to
University social and nightlife does not have to include drinking at all if that’s not your cup of tea (or G&T perhaps), so don’t feel pressured to join in drinking games with a spirit. If you’d rather not sip gasoline for the evening, make your own yummy mocktail or drink some water instead – the social reward of being involved will give you your own buzz. Half the time, people won’t even realise you aren’t drinking alcohol if you choose not to say.
It’s okay to make mistakes
Part of growing up is learning from your mistakes, making your own decisions and looking after yourself. Whether you choose to do this alongside alcohol or not, the university experience is what you make it.