“Last night I was wrecked”. How often is this the opening statement of a conversation between students? Even now, I am writing this with a hangover and going through the motions of saying I will never drink again (which will only last a couple days at best). Why is it that the social lives of students are often centred around alcohol?
Now lets be fair about it. At face level, why do you drink? Answer, because it can be bloody great fun! It loosens you up and makes most people more sociable. It can be the important ingredient in a good night out. Ok, so that is the easy bit, answering why someone would want to have a couple of drinks. But why do so many of us, me definitely included, drink to a level were we wake up the next morning with hazy memories and an empty wallet? We end up doing stupid things that inevitably end up in embarrassing photos and videos on facebook. Maybe we can’t be totally sure what that girls name was, and are pretty ashamed of it, or maybe we just passed out somewhere creating a bit of a burden for all of our friends.
So why do so many people put themselves through it and waste what little money that most of us have on something that does us damage? When you think about it, it really is quite stupid. Surely young students, exciting and imaginative people that we are, could think of something equally as fun that didn’t destroy our livers and brains.
Take Karni for example. Part of me thinks that the organization is borderline genius. Get students drunk and raise a load for charity at the same time. It is great, and I will never say don’t get involved with it. At the end of the day, the charities they raise money for are more important than a couple of sore heads the next morning – even if no one really knows or particularly cares what they are raising money for. Karni’s events are completely alcohol-centred (even if they claim otherwise). I was at Mr Nottingham before the Christmas break, and it was that night which got me thinking about this article. It had a yobbish atmosphere. It was basically who could drink the most, who could do the wildest talent, who could make the jeering masses the happiest. There was something very simple about it, and not in a nice way. So forgetting the painful question concerning why students only get involved in raising money for charity when they are given a cheap option of getting smashed, why is it that this overall question matters?
One reason, at the risk of sounding like my year 9 school teacher, is that alcohol is extremely bad for your health. Severe brain damage associated with long term binge drinking, liver disease, memory impairment, loss of the ability to make judgments leading to anything from fights to unprotected sex to a criminal record, bla bla bla. We are paying for the privilege of killing ourselves slowly, we get it. But why is it so central to our social lives?
Drinking is a club. A society perhaps, where if you conform to it you are cool, if you don’t you’re not. That sounds very simplistic but sadly it is. It is fashionable to drink, while you’re automatically unfashionable if you don’t. This can be expressed in labeling anyone anything from boring to religious. It must be hard to be completely sober all the time. Perhaps those who do it are the smart ones out of us all.
But then at the same time, people always go on and on about ‘the university experience’. If this experience is totally based on alcohol, which socially it can appear to be, then bollocks to that ‘experience’. There is nothing new or special in a night out getting pissed. Nights out in general all merge into one singular memory of embarrassing dancing, stupid chat up lines, getting ripped off by taxi drivers, eating horrible dirty food and cleaning vomit off the floor. Ok, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have funny and good memories associated with alcohol, and yes, I believe alcohol has enabled some of my friendships to develop. But is it worth it for the flip side?
In places or times where a society’s culture, way of life or social structures have relatively collapsed there are extremely high trends of alcoholism (for example in Russia around the time of the collapse of the USSR, in many African countries experiencing, or who have recently experienced, civil unrest, and also communities like the Aboriginal tribes of both Australia and Canada). According to a health report published last year, one in four adults in the UK are regular binge drinkers. Is this a sign that our society is somewhat in a state of collapse, or stagnation at best? Perhaps not, but binge drinking has become our culture. Forget the history of these islands, forget our music, our sport, our humour and spirit. If we go away on holiday, we are known for our drinking, and the social mess this consequently creates. It’s pretty sad really. If you ask an old person about young people, they often see us as spoilt drunkards degrading society’s values. It’s a fair enough analysis.
I’m sure you have caught on that I’m in a bit of an anti-alcohol mood today – perhaps that is only because half my loan has been blown on it, or because I have a horrible headache courtesy of last night. Tomorrow I may wake up thinking that it’s only a bit of fun, but I doubt it. I don’t get any fulfillment out of binge drinking, in fact often I experience the exact opposite, and I imagine most people reading this will agree, if they are honest with themselves. When you’re out, alcohol can be great but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that when you come back, sit on your bed and start thinking about things, that’s when you remember that alcohol is a depressant. It can play tricks with your head.
To conclude I refuse to believe that we are such simple beings that we drink only for the fun of it. And while many may think I’m reading far too much into it, I believe there are other reasons for binge drinking. Is getting absolutely steaming simply a form of escapism? This could vary from escaping from boredom; to much more serious issues like depression and mental problems. There is a certain liberation when you stand in a club wankered, not giving a shit about anything in the world. Forgetting about life is sometimes needed, though not always healthy.
Additionally I believe that we are so bored with life that we need the stories that an alcoholic fuelled night inevitably creates. Maybe we are so socially inept that we need alcohol to mingle with a crowd, to go along with the crowd, so that we aren’t singled out for being different. I think the key word in this paragraph is the word ‘need’. We need alcohol. Our social lives are dependent on it. To need and be dependent on alcohol effectively makes us all alcoholics. Could I stop drinking right now, and never touch a drop again? Honestly, no. For me, those are the statements to which all the evidence I have seen seems to point to. So on that concluding point, I’m off to the pub.
By Chris Jenkins