Wednesday 25 March 2020

Challenging the Peer Pressures Culture around Alcohol in University

Emily shares her experience about the struggles to fit in with the drinking culture at university and how she hopes the culture of peer pressure drinking can change.
- Emily

Being able to say no and stay true to my own values is something I have always taken pride in. However, once I started at university, feelings of shame regarding my personal alcohol choices quickly took over.

The focus on alcohol during Freshers’ Week… 
The idea of getting to meet new people and hang out with my new flatmates was such an exciting thought to me. However, when looking at what was on offer during Freshers’ Week, I quickly realised that the majority of events hosted by societies and clubs were centred around drinking. I felt so anxious turning up to events and was quickly put off saying ‘yes’ to new social opportunities and groups gathering, scared that those activities would be predominantly alcohol-based.

Feeling ashamed that I hadn’t drunk much before coming to uni…
In spite of its popularity, pre-drinking was a totally new concept to me. While everyone else seemed as though they knew exactly what they were doing, I never knew what to bring with me or when to turn up and felt too embarrassed to admit this to others. So many of my friends seemed to already know their limits and I was still figuring out which alcohol I could tolerate the taste of! Eager to make a good first impression, I buried my embarrassment and reluctance. My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t include me as part of their social group because I didn’t enjoy the drinking culture most students lived for.

Always having to give a reason for not drinking… 
A major issue I encountered when choosing not to drink was having to justify my decision at every occasion. I felt as though I had to come up with elaborate excuses, rather than being able to drink and enjoy myself. Telling people I had to get up early the next morning, so wouldn’t drink that night, even when this was far from the truth. This kind of falsehood induced feelings of embarrassment and guilt. Although I tried not to care too much about what others thought of my decisions, this wasn’t an easy feat! Even when I chose to drink, there was still that lingering pressure of having to reach a certain level of drunkenness in order for it to be classed as a ‘good night’. I would have much rather stopped at a level where I was still able to enjoy myself, however, I was constantly pressurised to think that this wasn’t the ‘normal’ way to behave as a student.

Feeling isolated…
On nights when I decided not to go out and drink, I felt as though I was confined to the boundaries of my room. On one hand, staying in helped to avoid awkward conversations about why I didn’t want to go out to drink, like everyone else was doing. On the other hand, staying in out of fear of looking ‘uncool’ made me feel isolated and alone at times, when all I really wanted was to be surrounded by supportive friends.

My experiences with alcohol at University today… 
Now that I have a number of secure friendships, I feel as though I am completely content to drink when I like, but also not drink at other times, without having to feel ashamed or ridiculed by those around me. I am now able to happily join in with social events that are alcohol-based and still stay true to myself, rather than having to miss out due to the worries of not conforming to the student drinking stereotype.

Eliminating the peer pressure culture around alcohol… 
Despite now being in this comfortable position, I wish I hadn’t had to go through those feelings of guilt and embarrassment, just because I was following what I was comfortable with, during my First Year. I feel as though more could be done in order to eliminate the stigma around drinking at University, especially during people’s First Year. I know countless people who have been reluctant to join sports teams, too fearful of being pressured into drinking – which is a real shame! Treating people the same, regardless of whether they choose to drink alcohol or not, will hopefully be a step towards changing the University drinking culture. 

For more information on finding support, click here. Find out more about managing alcohol at university on page 32 of Student Minds' Transition guide

I am a Second Year Psychology student, who is passionate about the promotion of positive mental health and am keen to be able to make a positive impact on people who are experiencing mental health difficulties. I think being able to share my own personal experiences through a platform like Student Minds, allows others to realise they are not alone - which is so important to me.

1 comment:

  1. I felt exactly the same before coming to uni and through the fresher's period! The non drinking events always seemed so lame - that's not all we can offer! Like you - now I've found my likeminded friends all is well, but the pressure really needs to be off!