To drink or not to drink: the pressures of university drinking culture


By Rebecca Widdowson, Second Year, Sociology

The Croft // For many students, university life is filled with alcohol and partying. Despite the fact that clubs are closed and we're unlikely to be back in bars for a while, many students may still be feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to drink, even if it's only in their own living rooms.

Picture this.

It’s late morning. You’re struggling to find an area on the kitchen table that’s clean or at least not sticky (sticky with what exactly, you’re not sure and you never will be). As you sit down to eat breakfast, you find yourself counting the number of beer cans currently in the room like you're playing a strange game of Where’s Wally. The current tally is twelve.

When you go to do the washing up, your stomach sinks with dread. You forgot to take out the recycling again and that mound of vodka bottles isn’t growing any smaller. On the way out, you count one last beer can: somehow it’s wedged between the sofa cushions despite being half-full.

Secretly, you applaud its owner’s ingenuity.

For those of you living with students, especially in first or second year, this is most likely part of your weekly routine. Lectures. Tutorials. Drinking till the room spins. It’s all just a part of student life… right?

Once empty, who knows where these bottles will end up | Epigram / Rosie Angel-Clark

Hand on my heart, I can honestly say that drinking alcohol has never held much appeal for me, giving me plenty of opportunities to observe my friends’ drunken disasters and, where possible, try and prevent them. This can actually be rather amusing and some of my best nights out have involved drinking or at least watching my mates drunkenly stumble around the dance floor, trying to do the Macarena.

For those of us who elect to remain sober at parties, it’s like there’s a countdown on how much enjoyment you can get out of the evening when everyone else is drinking. It gets to a point when things are only funny if you are also drunk, leaving you feeling excluded and side-lined, maybe even to the extent where you consider joining in with the drinking too. Speaking from experience; don’t bother. You’ll never catch up to everyone else in time.

As a house we’ve spent more on alcohol than food for the past month; that’s a red flag if I’ve ever seen one

Funnily enough, I can’t say I experienced much peer pressure to drink as a fresher. It’s only now, starting my second year, that the empty time before uni restarts has been filled with drinking, drinking and more drinking.

As a house we’ve spent more on alcohol than food for the past month; that’s a red flag if I’ve ever seen one. And alcohol is EXPENSIVE. Obviously, this means we buy the cheap and cheerful own brands which taste like paint stripper but get you drunk all the same.

To drink or not to drink? | Epigram / James Emery and Grace Barnes

Now, more than ever, it can feel difficult to escape the drinking culture at university, especially if it’s taking up space, rent-free, in your house. Maybe you’re living with people who would prefer partying over studying, or your friends can’t get enough of the pitchers of Pimm’s at Steam: either way, it can be difficult to know what to do when faced with the question; to drink, or not to drink?

My advice?

Firstly, if people can’t understand why you’d prefer to remain sober, then these aren’t the sort of people you want to be friends with. There’s never an excuse for forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do. You should never feel as though you should compromise your beliefs just to make new friends. It’s okay to say no to drinking.

It can sometimes feel as if you have no choice but to down your drink, but before you do, ask yourself: am I sure this is my decision?
Is what you're doing in your free time making you happy? | Epigram / Rebecca Widdowson

Secondly, know your limits. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have had to pick a mate off the pavement or be picked off the pavement myself. We’ve all played drinking games before and it can sometimes feel as if you have no choice but to down your drink (and half of someone else’s), but before you do, ask yourself: am I sure this is my decision?

If you know that downing a tonne of alcohol in one go is going to make you chunder, then don’t do it! It doesn’t matter if the other people at the table are disappointed. At the end of the day, they’re not the ones who’ll spend the night cradling the toilet; you are. It’s okay to say no.

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Finally, remember that university is all about having fun. Well, maybe not that five-hour lab and that essay you’ve got to write and that tutorial you’ve got to go to. No, I’m talking about your free time. If what you’re doing in your free time isn’t making you happy, then maybe it’s time to try something different?

The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s madness to assume that things will turn out differently if you know things always go sideways when you drink and you always wake up with a hangover. Remember: it’s always okay to say no to drinking.

Featured image: Epigram / Rebecca Widdowson

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