Buckle up. I hope you’re ready for one of the most brutally honest articles I’ve written. I thought it would be difficult advocating drinking culture at university, because it can so easily become a habit that is hard to break, one of those crutches that we rely on for self-confidence, something we might start to crave because, ultimately, the world feels like a better place a few glasses down and our struggles seem to disappear, like the contents of the glass in front of us.
It was only 12 hours ago that I was discussing with one of my closest friends how I was going to approach this article, and now, ironically enough, I’m writing it on the way to campus at nine in the morning, still drunk from last night’s antics, trying to decide whether to get coffee from Pret or Costa. There is no doubting that these 500 words won’t be as polished or concise as they should be – there will be words that might not seem appropriate but right now they seem applicable. I’m happy to be writing this now, listening to my favourite artist on Spotify and letting go of any inhibitions I previously had.
I’m in the same jeans I was wearing last night, and they have ash stains all over them, despite the fact I haven’t smoked properly for two years. But surely, it’s better to get all of this out of our system now, rather than when we’re considered properly functioning adults with more responsibilities, such as a mortgage or children. We might as well embrace these years because it is important to get the wild times out of the way. Walking into campus still drunk has got to be better than walking to a nine to five job. Most of us have walked into an 8:30 seminar still feeling tipsy from drinking that only finished approximately five hours before. By the time we leave the seminar we feel the hangover starting to kick in and we are ready to snatch up as much sleep as we can. The consequences are something we just have to accept, because, after all, it is self-inflicted. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? (Until our liver ceases to work properly, of course).
We often read things in the news about university drinking culture and how students tend to perceive their bodies as ‘indestructible’, to quote an article from the Independent. As soon as we have a few drinks in our system we feel like we are able to tackle the problems of the twenty-first century. Although the conversations we have with other people while intoxicated aren’t exactly indelible, they’re easy. We tend to skip past the awkwardness of first meeting someone and get to neutral ground pretty quickly, add each other on Facebook and then invite them to our ‘pres’. Perhaps the fact we are relying on alcohol to do this says something about society, or, even, the human condition.
Ultimately, drinking is a release from the hyper-real, whirlwind existence we all live as students. Yet, consuming copious amounts of alcohol doesn’t have to be part of the student experience. It can’t be denied that drinking to excess can have negative consequences and leave us in vulnerable and dangerous situations.
Alcohol. Some love it, some hate it. It’s hard to escape the fact that at uni, the drinking culture forms such a large part of our student experience from the very beginning. For the most part drinking is just a bit of harmless fun: a way to forge new friendships and strengthen bonds, but for those who choose not to drink it can be incredibly isolating.
Even before the first term begins, fresher’s week is held up in our minds as a holy grail experience: the ‘best week of our lives’. But let’s face it, for a lot of us this was not the reality. Freshers is hard enough to deal with as it is: learning to cope with being away from home for the first time in a new city, cooking for yourself and making new friends. This tends to be overlooked and the “alcohol = fun” mentality reinforced as the best way to immerse yourself in uni culture through social media and fresher’s week socials largely revolved around drinking.
But where does the Fresher who doesn’t drink fit into all of this? Personally, having a later 18th birthday meant that I had only been drinking/clubbing a handful of times before uni and was not totally accustomed to it. As a fresher, I didn’t really anticipate the magnitude of the binge drinking culture and found myself drinking a lot more than I should’ve. The pressure to throw yourself into the uni experience and the fear of missing out on social situations is already rife in fresher’s week enough as it is, but it is made even more difficult with that added pressure to drink nearly every night to prevent being lumped under the label of ‘boring’, ‘narrow-minded’ or ‘socially awkward’.
We’re all familiar with the struggle that is an 8:30 lecture or seminar on a hangover, and its true to say that it’s not particularly conducive to good uni work when your top priorities are: sleep, Domino’s and Netflix. Most new students are novices at budgeting and being drunk makes it so much easier to spend a lot of money. Over the last 2 years at uni, many weekly food budgets have been blown buying rounds of drinks for my ENTIRE friend group and finishing the night with cheesy chips or a McDonald’s.
A drunk student is much more vulnerable than a sober one. Being under the influence of more alcohol than you’re used to can place you in unsafe situations as your decision-making skills are inhibited. Alcohol also has the power to dramatically alter a person’s mood and has different effects on everyone. We’ve all described ourselves (and others) as a ‘happy drunk’, ‘a sad drunk’ or even an ‘angry drunk’. The heightened confidence, reduced inhibitions and blasé attitude that comes with drinking can sometimes make you act in a way that is out of character, leading to memories which can be hilarious and fun, but could be tinged with regret.