Britain’s Obsession with Drinking Culture

Emily Malia explores the link between the disappearance of public spaces and Britain's dependency on alcohol. With specific attention to university culture.

Photo: Getty/iStock

On the way back to my friend’s student house in Liverpool, walking through the backstreets that lead to concert square, lined with bars and outdoor seating, the echoes of high heels on cobblestones and baselines of 2000's music blaring through the open doors with shisha polluting the air that surrounded us, my sober eyes readjusted to what I was seeing around me. The early hours of a Sunday morning when you're sober, opens you up to a viewpoint unlike any other, a moment of clarity. Unconscious girls, no older than me, strawn out on the pavement, unaware that the entire street can see up their mini dresses, guys leant against a brick wall, wearing urine-stained trousers, alone and covered in their own vomit. Somewhat sober friends trying to find their mates keys, purse, ID, phone, everything important that they own. The hysterical crying. The hysterical screaming. It wasn't a pretty sight. In fact, it was unsettling. Like watching animals at a zoo misbehaving with one another, I stood behind the glass,  on the outside looking in. “I’ve been here” I thought. I've been that girl trying to find their mates, phone and keys and money so she can get home safe. I've been that friend who fell over because she couldn't physically walk. I've been that friend hysterically crying. I wondered how many people had seen me in this vulnerable state, how many people had seen up my mini dress whilst waiting for my much-anticipated taxi home. But more importantly, I wondered: just how bad has drinking culture become amongst my generation?

When you turn 18 in the UK, it’s often glamorised as though your entire life changes, because you're now legally allowed to drink alcohol. Pretending as though you haven't been drinking it in parks and in fields since you were 14. British culture is so often aligned with alcohol, whether that's through football, through holidays like Christmas, bank holidays, stag do-s, hen do-s, reinforced through TV and film, marketing,university and Office parties. What used to be play-dates and picnics as a child is then replaced with pub crawls and bottomless brunches. It’s noticeable that across the UK, our social spaces are slowly but surely being eliminated

With the closure of local libraries, youth centres and cinemas, there is nowhere left for young adults to socialise but the 47,200 pubs we have in the UK (I can name 7 of those, in my suburban postcode area alone).

When students then move away from home for the first time, they are granted this newfound freedom and responsibility and amongst the anxieties of meeting and living with new people, in a new city with an entirely new lifestyle, it’s no surprise that students want to use alcohol to help overcome this huge transition. NUS found in 2016, that 85% of students agreed that getting drunk is a part of university culture. When drinking to socialise becomes the norm, young people feel compelled to engage in bingeing behaviour. So much of this issue is down to the marketing and advertising aimed at young people that normalises excessive consumption of alcohol. In 2014, the government launched a scheme to encourage an alcohol impact pilot scheme, where seven universities signed up, in an attempt to encourage responsible drinking amongst students. However, in doing this, they completely avoided challenging the industry's marketing and low prices for pub crawls and fresher’s events that most students attend, off campus. With bars across the country using social media and marketing tactics to sell their 10 Jager’s for £10 and double vodka drinks for £3.50. This entices young adults, who are living off a student loan, and takes advantage of their vulnerability and financial struggles.

Photo: The Independent

It's no secret that mental health issues amongst young people have skyrocketed over the past decade, with the number of UK applicants to UCAS sharing a mental health condition has increased by 450%. Students are faced with the pressures of studying, leaving home, isolation, and debt. Throw frequent alcohol use into the mix and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s proven that when you’re intoxicated, you’re more likely to have impulsive behaviour as well as poor memory. This is down to the fact that the part of your brain associated with judgement and decision making is the one most affected, often resulting in reckless behaviour and bad decisions. It leads to fights, fall outs, injuries and emotional breakdowns. For many students, this has just become a part of the Saturday night ritual, every week, sometimes three times a week, four, for freshers first week, it’s often every single night. It’s worrying to know that this is how most young adults make their first friends in a new city for the first time. For someone suffering with a mental illness, who has existing anxieties, relying on alcohol to form relationships and give you that confidence and social ability can make you entirely dependent on it. Before you know it, you’ve formed all of your closest relationships through alcohol. But often, the feeling it fuels, can be fleeting. The moment those endorphins rush through to your brain, the confidence you feel, the happiness, the power you hold, there’s nothing like it. But the lows can be even lower. The insecurities you feel are exaggerated, the sadness, the anxieties. For someone already suffering with their mental health, these feelings can be amplified to dangerous levels.

Nobody should feel pressured by Britain’s obsession with drinking culture to live a lifestyle they don’t want to live. Not constantly getting drunk between the ages of 18-21 isn’t wasting your younger years’. It can be fun, sneaking into clubs through the back door at 17 and the thrill of bumping into the one you fancy, the one you really came out for, the drinks brought by admirers, the strangers you exchange Instagram’s with in the smoking area, the highest of heels and new off the shelf outfits, but it doesn’t have to define your life’s experiences. You shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed if you don’t want to drink. You shouldn’t have to pretend your lime and lemonade has double vodka in it because you couldn’t afford the spirits that night. You shouldn’t have to take the brunt of being called ‘boring’ for not taking a shot. You shouldn’t have to wait to be sober, or hungover or suffering from beer-fear early hours on a Sunday morning, wrapped in your Dunelm duvet, nursing Lucozade down your throat, to realise that… maybe being drunk isn’t the only way to have fun.

Article written by Emily Malia

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