By Emma Taylor
“If you can’t go out and have a good time without getting smashed, then you won’t fully appreciate life.” These are the words my mother would say to me from the time I was sixteen, having that first glass of wine during Christmas dinner, through to my eighteenth birthday when I had my first legal drink.
Her words always stuck in my head after I turned eighteen and started going out instead of going to a random house party once every blue moon. Until college, I never saw the fun of not remembering how I got home the night before (I still don’t) but throughout my first semester in UL it has become clear to me that sticking by my mother’s advice is the best thing I can do.
I’m not claiming I don’t drink. We’re Irish, drinking is seen as part of our culture. A culture that I don’t truly enjoy or understand. Before college I wouldn’t engage in pre-drinks before heading out, I had more fun getting ready with my friends to the sound of our favourite songs. A few drinks and couple of glasses of water to pace myself were what I enjoyed on a night in the town. This changed when I came to UL.
Suddenly I was playing drinking games and partaking in shots before I even set foot out of my accommodation. I was drunk before I even left the house. Without my usual group of friends that I go out with, I found myself relying heavily on alcohol on those nights. It made everything easier. The loneliness of not having my close friends with me, the homesickness, the anxiety all disappeared after a few vodka and cokes.
It helped, it was a sort of a crutch for the first few weeks of first year. I didn’t mind that I was tripping in my high heels, or gaining cuts and bruises from various falls. I was free. I could laugh, joke and talk to people I didn’t know without worrying about how I acted or looked. I let myself become a fool in order to have a good time and to feel like I fit in. I didn’t see any problem with going out once a week and drinking at home on Tuesdays.
I was having fun. I was relaxed. I didn’t get hangovers no matter how much I drank. It wasn’t a problem for me. Everyone told me that first year was the year to go out and have fun, party before the workload piled up.
“QCA from first year doesn’t count, go drink,” was one of the things I heard when I started in UL. It was the general attitude in my house, my accommodation village, among people back home and those in my lectures. Drinking everyday was okay. It was what was expected of me this year. Go wild a little before reality kicks in. Enjoy first year while you still can.
With only a few weeks left in my first semester, I’ve come to realise how dangerous this drinking culture really is. I reached this conclusion the morning I woke up with no recollection of what I had done, where I had been, who I’d been with or how I’d gotten into bed. I still don’t remember much of that night but the horrible feeling I had the next day put me back in my place.
When you binge drink, anything can happen. It’s a terrifying thought. I could have fallen and done some serious bodily harm. I walked away with a badly cut knee that night. If my friend hadn’t been with me who knows what could have happened. When you’re so drunk that you don’t recognise the people you’re with, how can you prevent any dangerous things from happening to you? You can’t.
Our drinking culture, the way we party and don’t think of these consequences is a serious problem. A night on the town or in a nightclub should be spent laughing, dancing like crazy or maybe in a quiet bar chatting with friends. It shouldn’t be about who can drink vodka straight, who can handle the most alcohol or who has to drink the health threatening mixture of spirits, beer and cider that is the result of a game of kings. A night out doesn’t have to involve getting so “smashed” that you can’t remember what time you got home or who’s house you ended up in. This is the culture I stepped into when I started here in UL. It’s addicting and fun. It’s freeing, but at what cost?
I go back to my mother’s words now. I was always able to enjoy a night out without having my speech slurred or my awareness impaired. First year is a year of freedom and for so many other first years like me it can be a way of socialising. A way to get to know people, however people probably won’t be able to remember your name. It’s enticing.
Starting over again in a new place where you don’t know the rules can be scary. Alcohol is an easy way to relieve this anxiety, the stress, and the urge to be like everyone else. Even as young adults we need to feel validated and appreciated by our peers. The fear of being looked at weirdly or as if you have three heads when you reject a drink or say the words “I don’t drink” causes a lot of us to give into the calling of alcohol.
Alcohol can be a dangerous drug, but it doesn’t have to be an addiction or something you do to pass the time. I have found that one or two drinks on a night out will give me that happy buzz. It will allow me to enjoy my night without impairing my judgement and putting myself in danger.
Often staying home with a few good friends and having a bottle of cider, or a glass of wine while watching a movie can bring us more joy than drinking ourselves blue with people we don’t know. Alcohol doesn’t have to validate us. We’re wonderfully interesting human beings on our own without the influences of alcohol and the regret of the next morning.
When my friends start in UL next year I hope to teach them what my mother taught me – that a good night isn’t the one where you have partial alcohol induced amnesia or the memory of a friend’s. It’s the night where you danced without care, laughed at the weird faces your friends make and just enjoyed life.
We’re so young still, we have a lot of ground to cover yet. Alcohol isn’t our enemy when taken in moderation. But the drinking culture in first year of college is worrying. I can’t tell people what to do, but if I can advise one thing, it would be to cut back on the alcohol.
In thirty years when you look back at first year, do you want to remember the nights you had with your friends or the mornings spent wondering what happened while retching into the toilet bowl? I know which option I’ll be choosing from now on.
*The content in relation to alcohol use in this article relates to UL’s Alcohol and Drugs Awareness Week and involves the opinion of a UL student which is solely intended to illustrate an opinion and promote discussion. Nothing in this article should in any form be taken as an endorsement of any illegal or unhealthy activity involving alcohol.