This may not be what you want to hear right now, but it has to be said. College drinking culture is a legitimate problem that we need to talk about—and deal with.
I'm a university student who has not only partaken in and experienced the effects of drinking culture, but has also witnessed the worst possible impact it could have on a person. I want to talk about why this ritual of excessive drinking is so common.
For most, drinking often feels like a part of the college experience. Whether it's Frosh Week, St. Patrick's Day, a tailgate, or a Friday night at the bar, there are many opportunities that call for drinking.
Binge drinking is a systemic problem in college. According to a US national survey, 2 in 3 students aged 18-22 had engaged in binge drinking in the past month. For women, four drinks is considered binge drinking, and for men, five drinks.
My goal here is not to attack you (or myself), the person who sometimes binge drinks. Instead, I want us to better understand the culture as a whole and inspire college students to take steps toward improving their wellness.
In an attempt to understand and address this problem, here are the top six reasons why drinking culture is such a pervasive force in college students' lives.
1. To relieve stress
We all know that university is a stressful place, with the constant pressure of academics, extracurriculars, and social life. According to a NIAAA study, "alcohol consumption can result in a stress response dampening (SRD) effect."
Alcohol can seem like a relieving option after a hard week, but having four or five drinks in one sitting can put your safety and health at risk. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism can also lead to alcoholism later in life.
As you probably already know, the stress will come back right when you get sober. Instead, here's a link to some healthy and quick ways to cope with stress.
2. To make social situations easier
Meeting new people can be awkward and challenging, and alcohol can ease the nerves a little. The thing about university (and life in general) is that we're constantly meeting new people and entering new experiences.
Next time you want to drink to ease the awkwardness, remember that the situation is just as new for the other person. If you're going to a party where you don't know a lot of people, you'll probably make a better impression if you're sober.
3. To have fun
I don't want to completely demonize drinking culture, because if it didn't exist there would be no clubs for dancing with friends, no keggers for chatting and meeting new people, and no pubs for sitting and enjoying a beer and fries.
The issue is that some people can only have fun if there's alcohol involved because they're so used to the euphoric feeling of being drunk. Meanwhile, there are a lot of other exciting things to do that don't involve alcohol. If you don't want to drink but still like to go out, that's possible too.
4. To fit in
Heavy, frequent drinking has become so normalized in university that those who don't drink are considered outliers. On top of that, many stereotypical college activities involve or promote alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, drinking lots of alcohol in any circumstance can have dangerous implications, such as worsening mental health problems and getting sick from alcohol poisoning.
5. To distract and forget
We all struggle, and because of that we seek temporary relief or distraction from the difficult things we're dealing with. Drinking culture makes it seem okay to use alcohol as a way to feel better. Instead, keep busy with a fun hobby and check out support resources on campus to help you tackle your issues head-on.
Getting a bit tipsy can be a fun addition to a night out, but like anything, the only way to drink safely is to do it in moderation. Drink less alcohol, less often. Nothing feels worse than waking up the next morning with a headache, an upset stomach, and the memory of your mistakes from the night before.
Frequent drinking can also have negative academic consequences such as missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
I'm not trying to tell you to never drink, but rather to be conscious of the manipulative power of drinking culture and to think about your wellness first.