Alcohol is our favourite drug. Most people associate it with fun, with being sociable and with celebrations. We may also use it to help us feel better when we are tense or unhappy, or to feel more confident.
Social drinking can be extremely pleasurable and, in moderation, may even have health benefits. One snag is that, although alcohol initially acts as a 'pick-you-up' and mood - enhancer, it is ultimately a depressant; so a heavy night drinking is likely to leave you feeling worse rather than better. Also, the more you drink, and the more often you drink, the more of it you need to feel the same effects. Over a period of time habitual over-consumption can have a wide range of consequences - social, psychological and physical. Individuals often are not aware how much they are drinking or its impact on those around them.
If you are viewing this page it may be through idle curiosity or perhaps you are worried about your own drinking or that of a friend or relative. It has been estimated that on a typical day 10,000 people in the UK seek help for their own, or a friend's or relative's alcohol difficulties.
The picture amongst students:
As a student you are particularly vulnerable. If you are away from the family home and in a new environment, there are all sorts of new experiences to be sampled, but there are many sources of potential stress as well. You may find yourself insecure about your academic ability. You may have to manage your life in ways that you did not have to before. It can be hard to balance work and social commitments. You may worry about money, or social skills, or sexual attractiveness or performance.
In a survey of second year students in 10 UK universities, 11% were 'non-drinkers', 89% 'drinkers'. Looking at the drinkers group:
Respect for others:
Students who drink can often offend others who do not, simply by making the assumption that everyone drinks. There are many reasons for not drinking, including a person's preference, faith or culture, or factors like intolerance to social environments. So when you are arranging social events or meetings, go out of your way to include others and respect their choices. Why should students who dislike pubs or bars have to miss out and be socially marginalised?
Measuring your intake:
If you are concerned about your drinking or that of a friend, there are simple things that you might want to bear in mind.
Consumption is normally measured in 'units'. A unit is the equivalent of half a pint of 3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) of beer, lager or cider. It is also equivalent to a 25ml shot of spirits of 40% ABV, or a small glass of wine at 9% ABV.
It is generally believed that alcohol is safe to drink at levels of up to 2-3 units per day if you are a woman, 3-4 if you are a man (i.e. up to 2 pints a day). There is an increasing risk to your health if you are consistently consuming over these levels. After a period of intoxication, it is strongly advised that you avoid alcohol completely for at least 48 hours to allow time for liver damage to recover.
Binge drinking, i.e. drinking a great deal in one evening or over a short period such as a weekend is regarded as particularly hazardous to health.
Problems with Drink:
Most people who drink at all will have experienced at least one episode of alcohol self-harm - a hangover! If you consistently drink fairly heavily, your tolerance to alcohol's effects will increase and you run the risk of developing dependency. This may be physical, psychological, or (most commonly) both.
If you recognise the presence of two or more of the following, it is time to do something about it:
Most drinkers stop well short of dependency, which is relatively rare in students.
Attitudes to alcohol:
Much of your drinking behaviour as a student is dependent on context and environment.
Alcohol can readily become associated with some of the issues and transitions that you are trying to deal with at the time. Its ability to help you to relax, to reduce tension and to disinhibit, lends itself to being used to avoid or manage some difficult situations. Some of the issues involved may be loss, separation, sex, relationships, and responsibility. Drinking may give you a relaxed sense of community, but habit may make it hard to relax without it.
Reducing or limiting intake:
It can be extremely distressing if someone you care about is drinking at levels that give rise to problems for themselves or others. Although you can encourage and support them to make changes, it is they themselves who must ultimately decide (and be prepared) to do the changing. If you are particularly sensitive about alcohol (e.g. because of related problems in your family) it may be helpful to bear this in mind.
Some suggestions to help are:
Reading this, you may begin to recognise aspects that are relevant to your present situation or to a situation into which you fear you may be slipping. Sometimes it helps to talk things over with someone else in order to disentangle your thoughts, feelings and actions.
There are several sources of confidential help within the University and locality:
And, of course, the advisers in our Advice Centre will be very willing to talk things over with you and help you work out what is best for you to do. We can particularly help with any underlying problems that may be associated with drinking excessively, but we will usually refer you to one of the above agencies for help with dependency or for medical support.