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The Dark Side: Student Drinking Culture in the UK

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Last week, British PM David Cameron announced the vastly unpopular decision to raise alcohol prices to a minimum of 40p per unit in an attempt to curb the country’s heavy binge drinking tradition. As a student in a Scottish university, my first reaction was an overwhelming sense of indignation and a heavy dose of youthful rebellion: ‘How dare they try to control my fun? Do they expect me to interact with people sober? Screw the government, man!’ However, when the part of my brain that doesn’t sound like a spotty teenager went to sleep, I realized there was a possibility that in the six months since me moving here I may have unknowingly stumbled into the dark side.

Indeed, there is something decidedly sinister about the UK’s attitude to drinking, something that seems to go beyond the simple need to wind down a bit with a group of friends. I can personally only speak for the student population, but the government posters on the subway begging me to have one alcohol-free day in my week tell me that this is definitely a national issue. Don’t get me wrong, other cultures like drinking too. A lot. Especially when you’re eighteen and mom and dad can’t tell you what to do anymore. It is part of the university experience, like collecting traffic cones and eating watery microwaveable ready meals that look suspiciously all the same. But in other cultures, I’ve tended to perceive alcohol as an accessory to a good night, something you enjoy on the weekends because you’ve deserved it. Here, alcohol is the only purpose of the night; not a means to a goal, but the goal itself. You go out with the stubborn intention to get f*****g wasted, and no less. My friends will eat next to nothing during a day preceding a night out, because they don’t want any food lining their stomachs and diminishing their fun. I know a guy who goes out every night of the week and can remember any of them, and another who has thrown up out of a window every single time he’s been out in the past month. A general chant of ‘Laaaad!’ will greet the man who gingerly crawls out of his room at 2 P.M the next day, remembering only the fuzziest details of the previous night and having encountered a suspicious pool of sick in his shower. Bonus points if we’ve heard someone leaving your room at five in the morning. Even as a girl, the embarrassing photograph of you rolling on the floor in your underwear and the bruises all over your leg from falling from your ridiculously high heels will be taken as a sign that you just had a good night. In fact, a night where none of this happens will almost invariably leave a bitter taste of disappointment in everyone’s mouth. Again, these things happen everywhere. But this is the first society I’ve experienced where this behavior never seems to be associated with any feelings of shame.

Don’t be fooled, these aren’t rowdy teenagers from broken homes. These are all good kids, who got into a good university, get good grades and live in the nicest residences the university has to offer. I live amongst the posh students, quite possibly the tamest and most harmless lot of them. Few take drugs, even fewer take heavy drugs or show signs of addiction. There is no violence. This is as good as it gets.

And it is so easy to get absorbed into it. Whilst the responsible young adult in me condemns these poor lost souls, the student is going out several times a week and enjoying the general debauchery just as much as the next kid. And part of me thinks they’re nothing too wrong with that really. I know I’m not in any real danger, nor do I perceive my friends to be. We’re just being young. But in my mind there is something dark and disturbing, not in the fact that I’m drinking more, but in the fact that I cannot realistically conceive not drinking, or drinking very little, on a night out anymore. Maybe it’s because if I’m going to spend money on alcohol, I want to have some fun stories at the end of the night to show for it. But I think it’s something more than that, I think it’s something to do with the core of Britishness itself: keeping up appearances. In a society where being polite, distant, and avoiding overt displays of feelings is the norm, alcohol allows for a much-needed break. Yelling at a bouncer, punching that guy who tried to steal your kebab, hugging all your friends whilst sobbing that ‘You love them so much’ is accepted and indeed encouraged because it’s the only outlet left for a society still known for their ‘stiff upper lip’. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I can’t help thinking that a society who collectively agrees on forcing themselves to forget huge chunks of their existence probably has some issues to deal with.

And so the question arises, is this attitude to drinking something than can be eliminated? Should it be eliminated? Every country has their issues, why not let these guys solve theirs with beer? But if we do assume that this is something that has to be ended, will these raises actually make any difference? I have my doubts. We’ll probably just pay more. Save up on food, maybe. As I mentioned before, we want to get drunk for our money. So, when prices go up, what’s to say the kid who usually drinks a couple of ciders isn’t going to decide to go for straight up gin from now on, since he’s paying more anyways and he wants -needs- to get drunk? And I’m not talking nice gin. I’m talking the really nasty stuff that tastes like  it should be used to clean a public school urinal. Raising prices will possibly simply pushing people towards cheaper, less reliable, and perhaps more intoxicating alcohol.

However, it’s easy to say that it’s a hopeless cause, that they should just give up, so I will offer an suggestion: Government will succeed in reducing the number of diseases, traffic accidents and physical violence associated with excessive alcohol consumption the day they manage to convince students that they can still get laid without the help of it.



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