Pressure, first impressions and self-consciousness: it’s OK to give binge drinking a miss

Holly June

I’m tired of that age-old stereotype of students: the worst cooks in the world, constantly in debt… and drunkenly sloshing cheap-as-chips vodka all over the rented kitchen floor when we’re supposed to be chilling with our new university bestie, the 1600-page textbook which costs the same as the average second-hand car.

I must confess that I did have my first alcoholic drink in Falmer Bar during my own freshers week, two years ago now. And to be honest, since then I’ve been back for more, although during more recent trips I have in fact spent time wondering why I can’t just get a soft drink instead. It would, therefore, be somewhat hypocritical of me to encourage you to pour every drop of your house’s supply of beer and whatnot down the sink!

The truth is there’s much more to university than studying, exams and getting worried about losing your voice during your seminars (or is that just me?). As much as I am honoured to be learning things which might one day help transform the world, we all need to look up from that 1600-page textbook from time to time and let our hair down. This is especially true during first year.

The expectation that we must take all the endurance drinking games in our stride and keep it going ‘til we throw up and forget our own names kinda bugs me. It often feels like we must have a decidedly reasonable, concrete, immediately obvious excuse not to participate lest we be perceived as the serious, sensible type who wishes to hold on tightly to their dignity and doesn’t know how to have fun, bless their sober little heart.

Peer pressure may sound more like a high school issue – after all, most of us are paying rent and buying our own groceries, so surely now we are able to make up our own minds! It is almost definitely less straight-forward than at high school, but at university we also care about first impressions, are in this environment a lot of first encounters with flatmates will be over drinks. People will decide what they think of you based on a meeting where you are offered your new housemate’s special concoction of tequila mixed with cider, at a 1:1 ratio – and whether or not you accept.

For me, the worst factor in this strange type of peer pressure was actually internal: it came from my attempts at mind reading. Before uni, my social life was practically non-existent so buying my first ‘proper’ drink seemed all kinds of exciting – but then it began to feel like wherever I went, I had to keep drinking alcohol for fear of being labelled ‘boring’ if I did not. No-one explicitly told me I would be boring if I didn’t drink, but the idea was clear to me.

I found myself trying to invent excuses not to drink, wishing I felt capable to saying that I’m not a massive fan of the flavour of almost all alcohol. Why couldn’t I be honest? I wished I felt capable of saying that I’ve seen what alcohol can do, and that besides, tonight I wanted to actually remember what happened.

They say that lemonade won’t give you the excuse to spin around in the kitchen singing songs that you haven’t heard in at least six years – but I hope that one day it becomes accepted that the event itself should be the reason to have fun and be silly, instead of your choice of drink.

If you’re arriving at uni with all intentions of partying every night, go ahead, no-one’s going to stop you (except maybe your tutor and the people on the floor below).  But to those of you who have attempted to count the units in a round of centurion and are a bit freaked out by the thought of playing it… if getting legless just isn’t your idea of fun, please, please don’t drink to get drunk just because you feel like you’ll be judged if not. Find the environment and the company in which you can either drink or not, having fun either way, but not feel pressured into playing the part of someone you aren’t.

After two years at uni, nearly all the best memories I’ve had so far were when there wasn’t any alcohol around.  I don’t mind having a little drink every once in a while, as long as I like the taste, don’t have an empty stomach and know that I haven’t got a 9am lecture the next day.  But for now, make mine a soda and blackcurrant.

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