With freshers week 2014 fast approaching, there is renewed debate over how much responsibility universities have in controlling the drinking habits of students. Some say universities owe it to their students to protect them from drinking too much while others say deciding how much to drink is a matter of individual choice. Perhaps both sides are missing the point. Perhaps the real root of the alcohol problem during freshers week is the drinking culture.

Emily Henderson of the University of York addressed the issue in a recent post for Nouse, the university’s student newspaper. In her article, she touched on things like cheap drink prices, sports initiations, campus-sponsored sober nights, and even the difficulty experienced by new students as they try to adapt to a new sense of freedom. Henderson offered some thought-provoking material indeed. However, we need to go further.

The question we must ask is why young people feel the need to drink excessively during that first week of school. What is the appeal of getting so drunk that one passes out in the hallway, only to wake up hours later not knowing what happened? In order to change the drinking culture, we have to find out the reasons why students do it.

Rites of Passage

One possible explanation is that new students believe, mistakenly so, that binge drinking is some sort of rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. How many times have we heard students tell others that real manhood or womanhood is measured by the amount of alcohol one can consume in a single setting? Far too often. The attitude is only reinforced by parents who consider alcohol consumption a non-negotiable necessity of life.

Along with the idea of the rite of passage is peer pressure. According to Henderson, plenty of students enter that first week believing they have to drink, but not knowing how much is appropriate. Therefore, they drink whatever their newly found friends tell them to drink.

Drinking Games and Myths

If one wants to truly understand the student drinking culture in real time, it is as easy as visiting the local student union or university town bar and observing the many drinking games students are playing these days. If you don’t know, drinking games are a way to consume excessive amounts of alcohol through competition. These drinking games are built on the myth that one needs to drink excessively to enjoy him or herself at a party.

Again, Henderson shows the strength of this myth when she talks about how ‘lame’ campus-sponsored sober nights are. Nevertheless, ideas of what constitutes lameness are in the eyes of the beholder. If a student believes a party that does not involve drinking is lame, he or she is demonstrating their belief in the idea that alcohol consumption is a requirement for enjoying social pleasures.

The drinking culture that is an established part of freshers week is a complex problem that will not be solved by raising drink prices or cracking down on sports initiations. It will only be solved when society-at-large matures to the point of accepting the fact that we have a collective drinking problem. What happens in universities every September is not the root of any one problem – it is a symptom of a much larger problem that exists on a societal level.

Addiction Helper urges all new students to take it easy during freshers week. Understand that it only takes one night of binge drinking to start you down the road to alcoholism. Moreover, if you are already struggling with alcohol, please do not make matters worse by binge drinking during freshers week. Inform yourself about children and students with addictions in our student addiction guide.

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