If at some point in the last six months or so, you’ve managed to flip through a newspaper, catch the local news or even (God help you) stumble across a Tab article through Facebook, you’ve probably noticed a recurring theme of discussion regarding Durham students this year. Due to recent tragic events (on which we are all already well-informed), the criticism of university drinking culture – that favourite stick with which to beat the British student population – has begun afresh, and this time Durham has found itself at the centre of the debate.
A recent news broadcast from the city centre managed to catch (undoubtedly to the glee of the production team) a few shots of a rather inebriated young woman tumbling out of Loveshack after a night out, propped up by a friend. As a generation, we’ve become rather used to such footage being broadcast to justify smug finger-pointing by the media, and to be frank, I’ve had it. Yes, many students drink a fair bit, but the endless, one-sided condemnation we face because of it is needlessly sensationalist and irritatingly hypocritical.
I freely admit that we aren’t all teetotal angels – claiming alcohol is not a major part of university life would be, quite simply, a lie. Whether you drink or not, from that very first night of Freshers’ Week onwards, the majority of social events do indeed revolve around alcohol and places that sell it. Studies from the Universities of Northampton and Nottingham show that around 83-89% of their respective student populations identify as drinkers, which sounds about right for Durham too. Of course, telling you all this is about as useful as a front-page exposé revealing that grass is green. Students drink, so what? The real question at hand should be: is there any merit to the claims that we drink too much?
On a technical level, perhaps. Considering one standard double spirit and mixer contains two units, you could probably exceed the NHS-recommended daily limit of 2-4 units just by standing in the doorway of Jimmy A’s and inhaling the fumes. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to claim that many of us who drink regularly probably end up meeting their ‘binge-drinking’ quota of 6-8 units on the average night out either, especially after a few of Klute’s ‘quaddies’ which they definitely do not sell…
And yes, it’s not always pretty, but students aren’t as ignorant of the issue as we are perceived to be. Drinkers and non-drinkers alike know that too much booze does little to serve our sense of human dignity, and that it’s no good for our liver, bank balance or our personal safety either.
However, demonising students and other 18-24-year-olds alone for drinking (and acting as if we are the first and only generation to do so) is not only unfair but just plain inaccurate. A study by UCL has found that ‘frequent alcohol consumption is more likely to occur in middle-aged and older adults’ – perhaps your mum and dad aren’t vomiting all over their shoes outside a nightclub, but that bottle of Zinfandel in front of the TV every night isn’t exactly harmless either. Moreover, anyone who ever sipped a dodgy can of Strongbow while sat in a field as a teenager knows that drinking goes on well before UCAS applications are even distant spectres on the horizon.
Expecting students to stop drinking and going out, costly public awareness campaign or no, is wildly unrealistic. I will however agree that there are two inherent problems in the way we do it. Firstly, I think a lot of us drink for the wrong reasons, be it for increased confidence, because everyone else is doing it, or just to make it through a night in Klute. Secondly, I think most of us like to think we know our limits but don’t (or we do know them but kid ourselves into thinking that bottle of vodka at pre-drinks will be totally fine). I would be a massive hypocrite if I condemned all students who consume alcohol regularly and to excess, and an utter liar if I said I was going to stop drinking. Alcohol is undeniably fun when you do it right, and needn’t end in projectile vomiting or more serious accidents if we made slightly more effort to look after ourselves and our friends.
I’m the first to admit that the drinking culture at universities isn’t exactly healthy. However, pointing a camera at an incapacitated student then using it as evidence to tar every other young person with the same brush is both supremely condescending and hugely unhelpful, and the idea that we are the first and only generation to drink to excess is, to put it bluntly, a fairy story.
Illustration: Mariam Hayat