You stumble into a kitchen at roughly 11 in the morning . Specifically, your kitchen after a night hosting pres. Bottles are strewn on the table, a few half empty cans are on every surface, polystyrene takeaway boxes flap open to present some half eaten cheesy chips. And you? Well let’s not mince words. You feel like crap.
So, it’s back to bed for you. Just get a quick glass of water and check your phone first.
A glance at your phone reveals that you have a text from Tom (your hypothetical course mate). You expect it to be about last night; he had to be taken home he was so drunk, probably lost his ID or something. However, instead, you find that the text reads only one thing - ‘Lolas tomorrow?’. Definitely not, you think. Typical Tom, you think.
The situation I just described to you will be, at risk of generalising, common to most. Most students will have experienced a post-apocalptyic post-pres kitchen and most students will know someone like Tom. You know? The kind of person who is always a laugh, always going out, never without a drink in hand. Should have seen him last night - he was so drunk, it was hilarious.
But, actually, is it that hilarious?
Before I continue I want to make three things clear. Firstly, I do like to drink alcohol. Secondly, I have been drunk and will be drunk again (sorry Mum and Dad). Finally, I am not urging people to abstain from alcohol and for England to enter a Prohibition-like era. This isn’t my side project alongside a petition to government. However, I do have this to say. We, as students, have become too desensitised to the realities of alcohol.
Using the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, 40% of students can be classed as alcoholics. This statement, crucially, does NOT state that 40% of students are alcoholics, but what it does tell us is that being a student is potentially the best disguise for alcoholism you can get. Enjoying going out and gracing the pavements of the Triangle potentially too many times a week does not make you an alcoholic. However, it could do. Yes, going out five times a week could just mean you’re a student who loves a bit of Analog (if that's even still its name) action but equally, it could also mean you’re someone struggling with an alcohol dependency and the issue is, how would someone know which one is which?
People know that alcohol is bad for your body, but how often do you genuinely engage with that fact? We live in a culture where people are, fortunately, becoming more conscious of the food they are eating, but this only furthers the hypocrisy. You may skip the burger tonight but what about the bottle of wine? On a short term basis, drinking too much alcohol causes vomiting (always a dignified event) and passing out (even more dignified). The long term effects are, as one would assume, even worse, including disruption of brain development, liver damage, and an increase of blood pressure. But, really, shouldn’t the hangover be enough to tell you, as your body makes horribly evident, that you kind of poisoned your body last night?
I know I'm at risk of sounding over the top and self righteous. However, think of it this way, if one day you had a lasagna which caused you to send some horrific texts to your ex, vomit on the sofa, then black out, you’d probably be a bit outraged. Why is it different when tequila is the culprit? The answer is this: lasagna should not do that, tequila does. So why is it that people knowingly drink something that will have these repercussions? Of course the answer is to feel drunk i.e. more relaxed, more confident, more sociable, or just to have a good time.
Is the sacrifice always worth it though? The health consequences, immediate and long term, have been forgotten in our student culture and its normalisation of drinking. You see it everywhere. When a friend says they won’t drink tonight, that’s not on. When a friend alternates between water and alcohol, give them an odd look. Or even, when a friend has a bit too much, the first response, by many, isn’t to get them home, but to indulge in the drunk spectacle, take a few photos etc. People wait until people are at their limit because drinking is fun!!, everyone does it!!, and they’ll be okay tomorrow!! Just imagine, however, if instead of alcohol that night, they had taken a pill of something. It would never be treated as lightly. There are plenty of good reasons for this, but alcohol is a drug too, it’s not a play thing.
It’s not just your body that suffers either. The problem with drinking is that at some point, real life has to start too. The morning will still come and, as is the life of a student, you probably should do that essay. When you only see that one friend (let’s call him Tom again) on nights out, all you see is them having a great time. What you don’t see is the hangover, the missed lectures, the half finished work, the probable sense of regret. Students notoriously suffer with mental health issues (1 in 4 students suffer with one) and sadly, alcohol only aggravates this. Regular drinking reduces serotonin (a chemical which helps you regulate your mood), can make you more anxious, and crucially, heavy drinking and addiction is more common in those with depression and anxiety, and vice versa. Additionally, alcohol misuse is a factor in 30% of suicides each year - a sign, if ever you need one, that alcohol isn’t always symptomatic of someone having a laugh, in fact, sometimes it’s the complete opposite.
For a lot of students, alcohol is just a way to have a fun night out, and I'm not saying that alcohol does not have it's place within society. It does. It can enable a side of you who can be the life and soul of the party, schmooze with strangers and dance the night away, but, for some people, alcohol just isn’t that. It’s a way to deal with the world. Something they need rather than want. Students do, as a majority, drink too much given the guidelines (https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/ - check them out if you want) but the root of the issue isn’t in activity but the psychology behind it. A psychology that allows us to forget the long term damage under the banner of ‘student lifestyle’ and allows people genuinely struggling to hide under the label of ’student’.
Our society glamorises alcohol and to some extent, we need it to. There is a huge market around alcohol. Essentially, there's always an excuse to drink. Want to relax with your mates? Pint at the pub. Boyfriend just broke up with you? There’s a bottle of red wine with your name on it. Someone just got engaged? Crack out that champagne. Sunny day? Pour the Pimms. Passed your exams? Make it a double. Failed your exams? Make that two doubles. However, hypocritically, whilst pushing this sentiment and fuelling this desire, we have also made ‘alcoholism’ a dirty word. Addiction is a reality for so many people and really, why are we surprised? Alcohol has infiltrated every aspect of our life and yet, we ignore this pressure whilst also stigmatising addiction. Addiction is met with a certain judgement and a blindness - a blindness to the alcohol centric nature of student culture and the pressures that come with it.
It’s time to take off the rose tinted spectacles we are all prone to wearing. Ask Tom if he’s okay. Ask him if he wants to chat. Ask him if he really needs that pint tonight.
Photo: instagram @em.trong