As November marks Alcohol Awareness Week, I encourage you to ask yourself this question – what role does alcohol play in your social life?
This week serves to draw attention towards the drawbacks and benefits of sensible alcohol consumption, which is especially important with regards to university life, in which drinking alcohol plays a huge role in student culture. Although there shouldn’t be any pressure upon the individual to drink if they choose not to, university culture often creates the sense of being an outsider if you choose to remain sober. Coming from the perspective of somebody who does drink alcohol, but perhaps not as frequently and heavily as other students, I am going to explore both sides of alcohol consumption – the benefits I gain from it, but also the negative aspects that I have experienced.
Not unlike most people, I find the main benefit of drinking to be the opportunities it presents to my social life. Going to the pub or on a night out is an easy and convenient way to socialise with people. Not only does consuming alcohol often help to ease nervousness in social situations, but it provides a common topic of conversation that all drinkers can engage in. Questions such as ‘what are you drinking tonight?’ and ‘how much have you had already?’ often serve as ice-breakers amongst people getting to know each other. Nights out form a large part of social opportunities at university – for example, most sporting society socials involve nights of drinking, for example, the Durham-famous Players Wednesday. Drinking often makes people more chatty or outgoing, which is a big advantage in often unfamiliar social situations such as these. However, the boundary between enjoyment and over-consumption is frequently very fragile, especially for inexperienced drinkers who don’t know their limits. It is very important to be around people who you know and trust if you’re intending to get very drunk, so you know that you’ll get home safe at the end of the night. Particularly given the recently increased rates of spiking, being aware of what you’re doing is evermore important.
This naturally begs the question of how easy it would be to go on a night out or to the pub without actually consuming alcohol. For many people, this is a viable option that works well for them – it enables them to go out and be social, without experiencing the drawbacks of drinking. Yet, I have heard from non-drinking friends that even if you’re present in a social situation, you can still feel alienated. People talking excessively about drinking, which you can’t relate to, can make you feel like an outsider. Similarly, if all of your friends are drunk and you’re the only sober person there, the enjoyment of the situation can be dramatically reduced.
However, it is important to remember that there are often events held by societies or the university that don’t involve drinking at all and that might appeal more to your tastes, often involving art, film, sport or music. But if you’re a drinker, don’t forget to invite your non-drinking friends on a night out anyway – they may want to come regardless.
There is also a lot of social pressure with regards to alcohol amongst people who do drink – encouraging people to ‘chop’ their drinks, take shots or partake in drinking games can be fun, but can also put pressure on people who really don’t want to take part. Therefore, it’s all about knowing your limits and saying no when you’re not feeling up to it – if they are truly your friends, they shouldn’t mind at all.
Drinking heavily on consecutive days can also have an immensely negative impact upon your mental health. When my friends and I were going out a lot last year after exams, I often felt a lack of fulfilment in life, as my nights were spent going out and most of my days recovering. Nights out are so much more fun when you’re feeling up to it and have the other elements of your life under control too.
So, in summary – know your limits, have trustworthy people around you when drinking, don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do, but most importantly – have fun!
Illustration: Rosie Bromiley