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Opinion: On Student Drinking Culture

A lot of my college friends have disgusting attitudes towards alcohol. None of them will admit to that.

Let me begin by saying that I am no pioneer – I am not a saint, nor have I been exempt from having vomit-inducing, blackout-causing doses of alcohol. I like drinking; it’s fun, it reduces inhibitions, and makes my dancing a lot more liberal. But there are nights where I don’t wanna drink. I don’t have to explain why, to you, or my friends, or anyone, really; sometimes the thought of getting hammered just doesn’t appeal to me. And honestly, nights where I’ve had nothing have been some of the best nights I’ve had.

However, around certain groups of friends, any time I admit that I don’t want to drink, or don’t want to go out, I am labelled “shit craic”, “dry bitch”, “anti-banter”. A group of people I know used to bet on whether or not I’d go to their house for a party, and when I (inevitably) said no, I’d get harassed on the Facebook event. During USI Congress this year, hailed nationally for many years as a massive piss-up for all the Student’s Unions across the island, I didn’t want to drink on the 2nd night; in fact, I didn’t want to leave my room. Lo and behold, I got shit for it. “Come be social”, “what were you up to 😉 😉 ;)” etc, etc..

These are just personal examples of being subjected to the college drinking culture. That doesn’t include the people out there who drink for days on end simply because it’s a certain week of the year – one of my friends having a physical shake after ceasing her alcohol consumption. That doesn’t include the people who want to drink “until they forget how to walk”, the people who drink “til they can’t feel their hands, let alone an emotion”. That doesn’t include the massive queues outside the New Bar every RAG Week, nor does it include the students who come into me at work at 3am, with skirts missing (yes you read that right), hurling abuse at me and my coworkers.

Thousands of students across the nation have alcohol consumption levels to the point that it could be considered an addiction. Alcohol is a factor in over 50% of completed suicides in Ireland. 900 people a year are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer. Excessive consumption causes liver problems and infertility. Through people’s drunken actions, relationships are destroyed and limbs are broken. And yet, students still do it. Students still chug shoulders of vodka, go on 12 Pubs of Christmas crawls, drink every night for a week straight for the heck of it.

This is all well and good, but what are Student’s Unions doing about tackling the culture? Let me tell you: next to nothing.

This is my third year at college and I have yet to see a campaign centred around trying to get people to reduce their alcohol consumption. Instead, Community Support Teams of students are sent out at night, trying to excuse the actions of students to their resident neighbours, and keep the students quiet on the way home, without tackling the central issue: the students themselves. Instead of saying “Hey, y’all should drink less”, the campaigns around RAG Week are “don’t be cunts to your neighbours” (quite literally, there’s a “Down With This Sort of Thing” type campaign floating around). The national Students’ Union have not done a campaign on harmful drinking since I began college either, despite me hearing news in 2013 of there being riots in Galway because RAG Week was cancelled. Because a week, traditionally reserved as 4 days of binge drinking, was cancelled. Do you see what I mean yet?

Alcohol is killing us. Alcohol is damaging our mental health, our communities, and our future. And yet, nobody seems to be talking about it. The only people I’ve ever seen discuss having a problem with alcohol is former UCCSU officer Katie Quinlan (who wrote a really good blog about it, which I recommend heartily), and a British Youtuber called Lucy Moon, who inspired the conversation that prompted this article. Two, out of thousands of people our age who have problems. It’s despicable. I am watching friends deteriorate into people who use alcohol as a crutch to get through daily life, and the people who have the most reach, the most ability to campaign and raise awareness and try and open students’ eyes to what they’re doing to themselves, aren’t doing it because they love drinking to excess themselves. I may sound accusatory here, but it’s the reality; I’ve seen it happen – election victor’s night, Crossover, Congress.

One could say “Hey Laura, why can’t you ask for a campaign to happen or start one yourself” (yes, I could, and in fact will, but I’d like to focus on UCCSU having a permanent Mental Health Week first, thanks). But why should I have to? Why should I have to point out a massive problem in our college culture, that we all just turn a blind eye to? Why can’t the people with the power step up and try and tackle this without prompting?

Once, just once, I want to see the people who lead us take on an issue that isn’t already a conversation, and start it. We’ve seen it with drugs, we’ve seen it with mental health, and we’ve seen it with sexual health.

It’s time to try it with alcohol.

This article was adapted from a post on Laura’s blog, Building Skyward, originally published on December 14th 2016. For more, visit Laura’s blog on buildingskyward.blogspot.ie