Before starting university, I had this expectation that uni was going to be ‘the best time of my life’. Countless ex-students told me that I would be having the ‘best nights out’ with an endless stream of money and friends EVERY week. Turns out, that wasn’t very realistic at all.
Joining university as a first-year student has, quite frankly, been physically and mentally taxing. Not only am I trying to actually do the degree I’m paying for, but I’m also budgeting, cooking, socialising, travelling, working, going out, and on top of all of that, trying to take the time to look after myself too. Whilst trying to navigate this new-found independence, I have also experienced the need to go out because everyone keeps reminding me that ‘you need to socialise’. But why, therefore, does socialising equal drinking? And why do I keep spending my money on club tickets and drinks, hoping at some point I’ll suddenly start to enjoy myself after countless nights of going home late thinking ‘well that was a waste of time and money!’?
Because of these experiences, I have recently found myself questioning why alcohol is the only exception in a society where we consider doing drugs to be entirely unacceptable. So why is alcohol societally acceptable even though there are so many known negative effects?
In case you didn’t know already, here are some of the negative short and long-term effects of alcohol:
- Altering our judgement and movement, leading us to make poorer decisions which we are reminded of in the morning when the ‘hangxiety’ hits.
- Negative physical health consequences, both in the short term (vomiting, nausea, headache etc.) and in the long term (increasing the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart issues, liver failure etc.).
- Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
- REM sleep reduction, reducing quality of sleep and negatively impacting wellbeing.
- Most worryingly, alcohol damages the ends of neurones called dendrites, making it hard for neurones to relay messages to one another, effectively causing brain damage.
So, the real question is, why do we still consume it? Of course, alcohol, particularly in social situations, can make you feel more confident, outspoken, and friendly. This makes it easier to make friends and feel connected with someone as your initial anxiety, (and perhaps more reserved personality), has been masked by the alcohol. But surely this means that you’re not really getting to know people, understanding who they are as a person and whether you could have a genuine friendship with them, if alcohol is allowing them to be someone they’re not? This might seem strange, but reflecting on the effects of alcohol has helped me to reframe my perspective on drinking on a night out.
With this being said, everything is about moderation. Of course, having a drink on a night out isn’t going to kill your brain cells and cause cancer; this is only in excessive situations. But where is the line between having a social drink and excessive drinking? Unfortunately, at university, this line can definitely get blurry. Not remembering what you did the night before and throwing up in a grimy club toilet is not exactly something to boast about. So why is it considered ‘cool’ and ‘the best night ever’ when this happens?
Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to the occasional vodka cranberry and a cheeky boogie… but not when I see it at the bottom of a toilet bowl at the end of the night. So things like that have made me realise that I’d much rather spend £20 on a new top or a nice meal out, and that’s okay!
I have concluded that just because I don’t want to go out and get drunk every week doesn’t mean I’m not going to make any friends. I have found people who would much rather grab a coffee and walk around a bookstore or go shopping than have the typical ‘university experience’ of going out all the time – we do exist, I promise! At first, I thought I was a minority after several nights-in on my own, seeing everyone post on Instagram living up to my expectation of university nightlife. I thought I was the only one who didn’t want to do that, so a part of me wanted to be out there too. But I have learnt not to give into that feeling that I’m missing out and instead fill it by doing things I actually enjoy. Staying in to watch a film, reading a new book, FaceTiming friends from home, looking after myself by getting a good night’s sleep – the list of things I’d rather do than go clubbing is honestly endless.
So find what you enjoy, without basing it on what everyone else is doing. If going out is your thing and you love having a drink, that’s great, have fun, enjoy yourself! But don’t worry if that’s not you, there’s plenty of us like that – it’s not for everyone!