Student drinking culture, and why I joined in

It is common knowledge that in the UK, many university students often drink alcohol to excess. This is done in pubs, clubs, a friend’s house… wherever, really. And it is done often. Those who choose not to participate in the drinking often feel excluded, and though they are perfectly welcome to attend, it’s hardly enjoyable to be the sober one in a loud, crowded club that you can’t have a conversation in without yelling. Especially if you’re autistic, but also applies to any neurotype.

When I first started university, I did not drink. As a child I was quite strongly anti-alcohol, and I saw no reason to change this. I had no opposition to others drinking, but I did not wish to partake myself. I made it through to the last exam of my first year never having been drunk. I’d drunk a little alcohol on occasions – Christmas, birthdays, but only ever one glass at a time, never to excess.

I failed my last exam of my first year, and after exiting the exam I believed it highly probable. It had been disastrous. That night, I had an end of year social with one of the few societies I was in at the time. Almost every Tuesday for the year, I’d gone to their socials and events. They held their socials in pubs, and all year the other regular members had been encouraging me to drink.

There was so much stigma attached to not drinking, and I could give them neither a religious nor a health reason why I did not. And so they persisted. I ignored them every time, and strongly and easily told them no. However that day, following my failure, I decided perhaps I should give it a go – after all, with such a high probability I’d failed, my life was messed up, my principles shot to pieces, everything that made me who I was torn up and thrown out. Much of my identity rested on my academic capabilities at the time.

That was the first time I got drunk. Since then, much has changed. My grades have been terrible, I hate studying and I have no interest in my degree. I drank fairly regularly during my second year of university, as I had flatmates in halls of residence who constantly had drinking nights. Alcohol makes me hyperactive and often argumentative. Towards the end of my second year, I decided it had done nothing good for me, and plenty bad. I almost didn’t get into honours; I had to do multiple exam resits.

By some miracle I started third year. I did not drink at all from September up until one glass of cider in December. I did not fail any of my December exams. When 2017 began, I made it one of my new years resolutions not to drink.

I broke that resolution eight days ago, Friday 24th. I was out with the friends I miraculously managed to actually acquire; given how long I’d searched, I thought my quest for friendship was a lost cause. And my reasoning behind breaking this resolution? I felt left out. We’d gone to the Union, which is not our normal pattern of events. We tend to go to one of our houses and play board games or watch YouTube videos. There were seven of us, five of whom were drinking (though one did wander off and go see others half the time).

Naturally, I decided to join in. I was given an easy opening; one of them did not want a shot that had been purchased for her. And so it began. And that night was good, everything was fine. And so, when the group planned the same for next week, yesterday now, I decided to go along.

This time, all was not so okay. I drank far too much, and vomited in the end. The night wasn’t great and the next morning I just felt upset and angry with myself. For I’d remembered why I made the new years resolution – because this can only damage my grades, exhaust me for long time (after all, I’m masking all through the night and as more alcohol is consumed -> masking becomes more difficult -> I need to spend even more energy doing it), and because this is not who I was and not who I want to be.

I have no problem with other people drinking, but I never wanted to get involved in this myself. And I’m angry with myself for breaking my word. I’m angry with myself because when I read my diary entries from as little as two years ago, I see an entirely different person from who I am now – and I think I like her better.

I started drinking to fit in, I started drinking to make friends and later to keep them. These are common reasons, I believe, but they’re not good ones. I’d gone so long on my own with no friends, I was desperate. I compromised on fundamental principles of who I am. I don’t recognise who I’ve become, and I’ve done things that could mess up my whole future, given the effect on my grades.

The pressure to drink and the stigma of not drinking lead many students to participate in this culture of drinking to excess, and little is done about it. There are token campaigns to reduce student binge drinking, but nothing that actually tackles the root of the problem. ‘Students drink alcohol, if you don’t you are weird’ is too firmly ingrained in culture to go away overnight.

It’s not just a problem of statistics, it does affect people. Peer pressure is an actual thing, that I used to pride myself on resisting and now feel ashamed of allowing it to happen to me. I cannot turn back time, I can only change the present and hope it extends to the future. But it’s hard to change when the same pressures and same stigma remain that got me here in the first place.

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