University can be the best years of your life, made up of a whirlwind of parties, fun and some studying thrown in.
Alcohol often ends up being a big part of the experience too. The freedom of being away from home combined with lots of socialising means many students drink heavily.
It can be difficult to balance out a social life with essays, coursework and exams, and students often feel like they're burning the candle at both ends. As with everything at university, there's a balance to be struck. While moderate amounts of alcohol can play a part in the good times, when consumed in excessive amounts it can have a negative effect on work and could lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences.
Student life is frequently portrayed in the media and popular culture as one big party. From the mayhem of freshers' week through to the celebratory graduation ball, alcohol seems to have become synonymous with university; sadly it is now as ingrained in university culture as going to lectures and joining societies. Research shows that over half (52%) of male students and nearly half (43%) of female students drink more than the government's daily unit guidelines (3-4 units a day for men and 2-3 for women).
With cheap deals on alcohol in student unions and deals aimed at students in other bars, cost isnâ€™t much of a barrier to drinking at university. And with those deals extending to weeknights, students can often go out anytime and drink cheaply. However, spending does add up - The National Union of Students estimates that the average student spends £675 a year on socialising.
Of course drinking at university can be fun, especially when handled sensibly, but it's not essential to enjoy the experience of student life. It might help ease those initial nerves of meeting new people, but drinking your body weight in cider is not necessarily an essential initiation into university life.
Caught up in the excitement of a night out, how you might feel the next day is often the furthest thing from your mind, but writing an essay or revising for an exam is difficult enough without the extra pressure of a hangover dulling your concentration and motivation.
Drinking too much could also lead to taking unnecessary risks with your personal safety, like taking an unlicensed taxi or walking home alone. Being drunk can increase your chances of getting into trouble when you're out. The British Crime Survey 2008 revealed that students have the highest risk of being a victim of violent crime compared with other occupations. The soundest piece of advice to help you avoid potentially risky situations is to keep an eye on your mates and try to stick within the government's daily unit guidelines.
No-one expects students to be "tea" total.
Indeed, student life wouldn't be student life without a few trips to the Union. But to make the most out of your student experience, isn't it worth at least balancing the benefits and risks?
For example, Drinking above the Government's daily unit guidelines can damage your health in the short and long-term, not to mention the potential impact on your academic performance.
In the short term, drinking too much in one evening can cause all sorts of problems and if you drink really heavily it can lead to alcohol poisoning and even a spell in hospital. In the long term, heavy drinkers are at risk of liver disease, cancer and stroke and mental health problems like depression. University is tough enough without alcohol making you feel down too.
Drink too much at uni, and you might also experience the phenomenon of the "Freshers' 14". Students reckon they put on 14 pounds in weight when they start uni thanks to all the calories in alcohol and fast food.
Did you know there were there are 130 calories in a medium (175ml) glass of wine, and around 200 in a standard pint of beer?
Tips for smarter drinking
If you know you are going to be drinking alcohol make sure you eat something first to line your stomach.
Drink plenty of water and soft drinks throughout the night to keep hydrated and slow down your drinking. Perhaps you could have a soft drink after every alcoholic one?
Don't drink every day. If you've had a heavy session, give your liver a break and take a couple of days off the booze.
Decide on a budget before you go out to avoid being tempted to overspend on cheap drinks. Or only take cash and leave your bank card at home.
Always plan how you'll get home from a night out and never walk home by yourself. Stick with your mates and split the cost of a taxi from a reputable firm.
Watch out for drink spiking. Keep an eye on your drink and never leave it unattended. Be careful if accepting drinks from strangers.
Help protect yourself from drink spiking
This is a re-post from February 2012:
There have been several reports recently of students’ drinks being “spiked” by the addition of hypnotic drugs to the drink that can cause severe drowsiness and amnesia. Incidents have been alleged in local clubs and bars popular with students, venues in west London, and in one case inside one of the intercollegiate halls.
Fortunately, in those cases reported by residents in the intercollegiate halls, no one has been harmed and nothing bad has happened to them whilst they were under the influence of the hypnotic drug; but drink spiking is sometimes a technique used by criminals who may abduct, rob, or assault their victim whilst they are drowsy and leave the victim with no memory of what happened.
Drink spiking is still a rare occurrence. But you can protect yourself and your friends from becoming victims by being aware of the risks and following the advice below.
· Keep your drink in your hand instead of on a surface.
· Consider sticking to bottled drinks and holding your thumb over the opening between sips.
· Keep an eye on your friends' drinks.
· Never leave your drink unattended.
· Never accept a drink from anyone you don't know or trust.
· Never take a drink from a jug or bottle that is left out on the bar.
· Don't share or exchange drinks, or drink leftover drinks.
· When possible, drink from a bottle rather than a glass because it is more difficult to spike a drink in a bottle.
· Stay away from situations that you do not feel comfortable with.
· If you go on a date with someone you don't know, tell a friend or relative where you will be and what time you will be back.
· Don't give away too much information to anyone you have just met, such as your address.
· If you suspect your drink may have been spiked:
o Tell someone you trust – in Hall this should be the Duty Senior Member; outside, it might be the pub landlord, bar manager, or a close friend.
o If you feel unwell, someone you trust should take you to A&E at the nearest hospital and tell the medical staff that you think your drink has been spiked.
o Report it to the police as soon as you can. They will need to take blood and urine samples. Most drugs leave the body within 72 hours of being taken (the date-rape drug GHB leaves the body within 12 hours), so it's important to be tested as soon as possible.
Once again, please be reassured that in the cases reported by intercollegiate halls residents, no one has been harmed. But we do advise you to take the steps above to protect yourself from possible drink spinking.
Please share any information you have about drink spiking in local venues so we can build up an idea of where this is taking place and help protect other students: report any incidents to the police immediately and to me at the next opportunity.
The Senior Members and I are available in Hall as always to discuss any concerns you might have about this or any other issues.