Friday 20 September 2019

#FresherPressure: Alcohol and Making Friends

Hannah writes about the social pressure to drink alcohol during Freshers week, and the importance of moderation.  
- Hannah Barham

Going away to University for me meant moving from a village to a city. I went from living in a village with my parents and siblings with a few family-friendly pubs and one bar to living in The City, London, with eight other flatmates and more bars and nightclubs than one could count. Sure, I had had a couple of drinks here and there at social gatherings but never enough to get more than tipsy. My mum had experienced first-hand the effect that alcoholism could have on a family, so alcohol never played a huge part during my teenage years.

This meant that University was the first time that I properly experienced the effects that alcohol can have, from social embarrassment to the worst hangover that I have ever experienced. My experience of Fresher’s week felt like a constant cycle where I was either hungover or drunk, dancing at a different nightclub every night. Whilst there was never any physical or verbal pressure, it felt like there still was an expectation to get drunk every night and attend the Fresher-specific event that was being hosted that evening. Since everyone attended these events, it felt like the best way to get to know your flatmates and other students. Even after Fresher’s week was over, there were still events held every Wednesday evening and weekend that people expected you to attend.

Looking back, there were several moments that I should have realised were signs that the pressure was getting too much for me, but admitting that felt like admitting that I could not handle University and living away from my parents. It felt like everyone else around me could perfectly balance their University work and social life. I felt that by stopping drinking and not going to nightclubs every weekend, I would lose my newfound friends.

At this time, my mental health was the worst it had ever been. I have always been high functioning alongside my anxiety and depression which meant that I was still able to attend lectures and go food shopping as necessary, but I found myself staying in my bed, sleeping more and more often. Drinking alcohol seemed like the only way to alleviate the symptoms of my mental illness, but, in many ways, actually exacerbated them. These moments certainly did not feel like those of the best years of my life.

It took time away from the University environment, where alcohol was not so readily available and there was no pressure to attend events every weekend, for me to realise that the environment that I had put myself into at University was not the best environment for me. Whilst it felt that way whilst staying in student halls, the University experience was not all about getting drunk every weekend. This is the type of University experience that works for some people but not for me; I wanted an experience that did not solely revolve around alcohol and nightclubs and it was only in my second and third years of University that I felt like I found people of a similar mindset to me.

Fresher’s week is not for everyone and that is okay. I am sure that there were events being held by the University during Fresher’s week that did not revolve around alcohol and I wish I would have attended some of these instead of spending my days hungover in bed. I am someone who is hugely influenced by those around me and perhaps by meeting people of a similar mindset earlier, I would not have felt such pressure to consume large volumes of alcohol on a regular basis and experience both anxiety and depression as strongly as I did. I am not saying that consuming alcohol is always a bad thing, but for me, alcohol intensified my mental health symptoms and I am happier consuming it in smaller volumes, if at all.

For more information and advice on starting university here.

My name is Hannah and I graduated from University in 2018. I have my own blog: where I blog about mental health, travel and my life.

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