Drinking is undeniably interwoven into the St Andrews social scene. From trips to the pub, to sports socials, and even to the seemingly ‘classier’ society balls, alcohol plays a dominant role in St Andrews student life. While St Andrews is not unique in this sense, particularly when compared to other British universities, the fine line between enjoying alcohol socially and destructive drinking is often blurred beyond recognition.
I joined St Andrews in 2020, aka ‘The Covid Year’, when everything was shut down because of the pandemic. Lectures were online and social events were non-existent. While I was understandably and inevitably disappointed by this reality, a small part of me was relieved. I was not a big drinker before coming to university. I wasn’t much of a drinker at all. While I had not managed to completely avoid British drinking culture, with pressures from friends and family meaning I occasionally drank, I was definitely unprepared for a university social scene dominated by alcohol. However, after my rather disappointing and isolating Covid first-year experience, I went into second year with a determination to make the most of university life. What was the simplest way to do this? Alcohol. In second year, I went from someone who only very occasionally drank to someone who was out almost every night of the week. I was independently finishing bottles of vodka within a night and crawling into bed at 3am became a norm. Obviously, this was unhealthy and unsustainable and therefore, going into my third year I was determined to get it right.
My thought process was this: when people are happy, they drink. When they are sad, they drink. When they need to de-stress, they drink. When the stress is too much, they drink. If you go to a work event or visit family, you are offered alcohol. Holidays are often centred around drinking. Essentially, drinking culture pervades every aspect of adult life, at least in the UK, and my thoughts were that, if I was going to be able to function in this alcohol drenched landscape, simply going sober might not solve my problems. For me at least, going tee-total was just another extreme I could lean on to avoid having to do the hard work of finding balance and working on a healthy, sustainable, enjoyable relationship with alcohol. Now in my fourth year, I am proud to say that I know when to stop and listen to my body. I can drink and enjoy myself; I can even get drunk when I want. It is all part of a balanced relationship – one that I work on continuously – with alcohol.
If you are currently struggling with how to drink in a healthier, more balanced way, I would start by asking yourself some questions before you open that bottle of wine.
Firstly, I would ask: “What is my goal?”. This may sound strange – going to the pub isn’t exactly the same as setting up a life plan – but this question is often overlooked. Do you want to have fun? Do you want to get drunk? Do you want to be in bed by 10pm and make it to your 9am? Your answers to these questions are clearly going to determine what kind of night, and what level of alcohol consumption, is going to align with your current goals.
Another important question is: “How is my mood right now?”. Are you happy? Sad? Stressed? Angry? Alcohol may affect your ability to regulate your mood and, if you’re already starting from a negative place, drinking can exacerbate negative thoughts. If you aren’t in a good headspace, drinking might not be the best idea.
Similarly, an important thing to ask yourself is: “Am I in a good drinking environment?”. Are you with friends and people you trust? Or, are you in an uncomfortable, stressful, and anxiety-inducing environment, surrounded by people who might not have your best interests at heart? If your answer is the latter, drinking may not only be unenjoyable but potentially unsafe. Ensuring you are in a safe environment makes drinking so much more enjoyable and can help you control your drinking as you aren’t dependent on it the same way to try and ‘relax’.
Finally, the last thing I ask myself before I plan on drinking is: “What ways am I going to make sure I will be okay while drinking tonight?”. This includes such things as making sure you eat enough before drinking, making sure you have enough water, and telling people you trust what your plans are for the night.
Overall, drinking (even drinking to get drunk), if done in moderation, in a safe environment and without the intention of hurting yourself, can be okay. Drinking becomes destructive when you no longer control it, but it begins to control you. If drinking does not align with your goal, or if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then it might not be the best choice. If, however, you enjoy drinking with friends and you feel in control and safe, in my opinion it can be something makes your evening more enjoyable rather than worsening your experience.