Everything In Moderation: Glasgow’s Student Drinking Culture

We like to drink with Kirsty, cause Kirsty is our mate…

…wait? Is that really what I’ve been singing for the past few months? Have I really been saying that drinking with people is an exclusive symbol of my friendship? Cause it really isn’t. I probably drink more with people around whom I feel the need to loosen up, prove myself or show that I’m not boring. But is binge drinking now and then really that bad?

We’ve  all had the dreaded (and often shockingly pointless) school and parental talks about ‘The Dangers of Drinking’ or ‘Drinking Responsibly’ and ‘Knowing Your Limits’. Meanwhile, popular culture tells us binge-drinking is an ingrained part of university life. So what’s it going to be? How on earth are we supposed to figure out who is right?

So let’s assess the situation and face it: most university students binge-drink. In fact between 45-69% UK students admit to binge-drinking at least once a week. And our lovely Glasgow is no exception: we can now proudly claim 4th place in the 2015 University Drinking League Table with an average of 16.56 units of alcohol consumed weekly. Sure, students everywhere drink, but I can assure you, not in the same way as they do here. Talk to most international students and their first reaction to the binge-drinking atmosphere is to express shock. Coming from Germany, I can only say I was glad my siblings had warned me of what to expect in Freshers’ Week.

So why do so many of us binge-drink? Of course there are those who don’t drink at all, others who only drink restricted amounts and so on. But they are an exception to the rule. About 60% of us drink with the intention to get drunk at least occasionally.  The most popular reason given to explain why we drink is that it’s fun. And I wouldn’t disagree. Memorable nights and bonding moments definitely result from getting drunk together. But I would argue that there is more to it than that: you can have the positive aspects of alcohol by drinking, without necessarily binge-drinking. Drinking is not a dichotomy: we can be anti-binge but not necessarily anti-drink.

Psychologists actually say that enhancing positive feelings, like happiness or excitement, is only one of three reasons we drink. Surely you can guess the second reason. Yup, social pressures. All of us have first-hand experience of what this means. Lad culture and ‘male bonding’ are seen as the reason binge-drinking even kicked off, starting in student culture in the late 16th Century. Now, both women and men are exposed to the pressure to binge-drink, whether to conform to the stereotype of being a wild student, get involved in societies or prove yourself as ‘not boring’. Not everyone gets sucked into this culture, but looking around basically any night of the week will prove to you that many people are.

The third reason given for drinking is arguably even more concerning. Alcohol is seen as an escape from stress and anxiety. Alcohol becomes a coping mechanism, a form of self-medication that often lays the foundation for future alcoholism. Coming to university is definitely a time of increased stress: social and academic pressure are piled on top of possible loneliness, home-sickness, adjusting to new surroundings and being responsible for your own survival. Who wouldn’t want to fully embrace the lighthearted Fresher’s Week atmosphere of drinking games and casual sex? It might seem harmless: it is, after all, just a week. But alcohol consumption is highest in your first year of study, which is precisely the year in which drinking patterns develop. Suddenly, Fresher’s Week, Initiations or the general binge-drinking culture don’t look so harmless.

There are so many other statistics I could throw at you about the dangers of drinking, both on the economy or our health. But I’m not your 2nd form head teacher. I am not trying to say that drinking alcohol is a terrible thing. It can be fun. But as much as we all roll our eyes at it, I’d argue the idea of ‘drinking responsibly’ isn’t all that bad. Maybe the Home Office approach to create a ‘Café Culture’ is naïve, but not misguided. Possibly we shouldn’t just sweep aside the government guidelines of limiting heavy one-off drinking sessions and alcohol consumption to 14 units a week. Perhaps we should just keep the dangers in mind whilst enjoying our next pint or mindlessly belting out drinking songs we have never considered the implications of.

[Kirsty Campbell]

Image: Huffington Post UK

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