Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Rise of the Nihilistic Drinker

Working in universities for the last 14 years, I am no stranger to the alarming new trend, particularly among female students of 'pre-loading' - ie tanking themselves up on cheap supermarket booze, often in the form of shared 'dirty pint' cocktails containing everything except toilet cleaner before they go out in order to save money on getting paralytic in clubs. Three recently nearly ended up beneath my car wheels indeed as they drunkenly barged into the road arm-in-arm in front of me without even looking, but trashily dressed to the nines as they tottered uncertainly to whatever club they were heading for. It was 5.30pm in the evening.

This practice has become so endemic now that persuading them it is an extremely dangerous thing to do and actually they are not immortal has become a real challenge, notwithstanding the number who end up rounding the evening off with a pumped stomach in A&E or getting mugged or worse, yet still manage to shrug it off as 'a bad night' and carry on regardless. Far from having any shame attached, bragging about their drunken exploits has become de rigeur, almost a competitive sport.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that many of these youngsters are well-brought up middle-class gals who had ponies and piano lessons and their own en-suite from early childhood with parents who still dote on them. The worst offenders do not necessarily come from underprivileged backgrounds as you might expect. In fact the harder a student has struggled to make it to university, the better-behaved they often are as they value it more and are determined to make the most of their opportunities.

The university I work for is currently running an admirably upfront poster campaign about the dangers of binge-drinking and also how bringing the University into disrepute through their behaviour will result in disciplinary penalties and their parents being informed, not to mention a devalued degree if they destroy the reputation of the establishment We are also working closely with the local Police in this initiative.

I wholeheartedly support this and only wish the government would do more to support such measures through outlawing cheap supermarket booze, banning petrol station sales (which shouldn't be allowed in any case when drinking and driving are illegal) and targeting all the unlicensed one-man bands offering home delivery of cheap booze to student homes at any time of the day or night, so students do not even need to leave their homes!

This would also lend valuable support to our struggling pubs and off-licences, where more civilised drinking can be promoted in a safer environment.

I know this would invariably lead to protestations from those of more modest alcohol consumption who ask why they should also be penalised, but then again if their intake is as modest as they claim, they will still be able to afford it. In addition it is not some proud longstanding tradition that alcohol has been so cheaply and readily available, but a recent development. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted cheap alcohol, you had to embark on a long and inconvenient 'booze cruise' to France with a long shopping list of all your friends' requirements as well before trying to convince Customs it was all for personal consumption, thus risking confiscation along the way, and supermarkets did not sell alcohol on a Sunday as their licence did not permit, let alone at much less than the local 'offy'

Another measure I would like to see which would not affect more moderate drinkers would be to fine people who ended up in A&E through pre-loading and speed drinking £500 a time as a deterrent. Being 'drunk and disorderly' is still technically an offence after all, as is 'wasting Police time' when the Police have to escort them there (it is apparently too risky to slam them in the cells overnight to sleep it off any more lest they die in custody via their own vomit or not being examined for concussion and alcohol poisoning).

Crueller commentators have suggested that nihilistic drinking is just the latest manifestation of Darwinism. I like to hope this is being disingenuous.

However it seems the following fate at least could be awaiting many young binge drinkers further down the line.


Steve said...

Totally agree. Alcoholism starts in the young first time drinker. Anything to dissuade people from binge drinking and to encourage them to treat it and their own bodies with respect can only be a good thing. Being drunk and disorderly doesn't just affect the drinker; it affects everyone around them and everyone who comes into contact with them... and that's before you get into the health problems it can bring later in life. I'm not a teetotaller by an means but losing a favourite auntie to alcoholism at the relative young age of 52 a few years back has done little to turn me on to the concept of drinking for pleasure's sake.

Steerforth said...

Yikes! I'm switching to elderflower cordial.

Poetry24 said...

I read this with interest. And just when I had 'lad culture' on the tip of my tongue, I noticed the word verification - ladsies.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting post. And I do so wish the stereotype of a so-called 'typical alcoholic' would be trashed. And forever.
I should know, as I am an alcoholic, now sober 25 years.
Alkies come from all walks of life and all social backgrounds. I've known a prime minister and a former "under the bridge with the methylated spirits", a well known actress and a multi-millionaire corporate bigwig along with a 13 year old schoolgirl who couldn't stop (her parents didn't know).
My uni-students nephews and nieces and their buddies drink exactly as you describe and then brag about it on FB. As long as there is hooch, legal or illegal, available they will continue to do so.
Annihilation, and the photos to prove it, I can see anyday on FB.

Wisewebwoman said...

And forgot to mention, a dear young friend, a brilliant history professor, just annihilated herself forever a month ago (I did a post about her). An alkie.

Jock Coats said...

Whilst I obviously agree that there is a problem, and see/hear it virtually every night (especially tonight, Wednesday, and on duty) I personally wouldn't go for the interference with prices way of resolving it.

It matters little I think unless you were to get prices for off-sales almost up to on-sales prices, except to those who actually "need" it to be cheap even to enjoy it moderately.

Many of those I see coming onto site to "pre-load" have actually bought their booze at the local off-licence/corner-shop anyway - I see them walking up the road from it. Though I am sure you're right that many others do buy from supermarkets on cheap deals - but price is not a problem for many.

I do think the right approach is to be much more harsh on those who abuse it, and on those suppliers who knowingly allow people to abuse it. If pre-loading is "successful" likely as not they shouldn't even be being allowed into clubs, let alone served four hours into a drinking session. Clubs could also close their doors somewhat earlier. When they "only" had till 1am people were out at a more reasonable time and back earlier. Now it's actually more like between 10.30 and 11.30 that they even leave halls to go to clubs.

There's even an argument now for allowing the SU and JCR bars to compete on price with commercial venues to try and keep more students onsite and under perhaps more responsible eyes.

How about getting clubs, through the night-safe system to insist on patrons wearing those almost unremoveable wrist bands you get at festivals so that when someone is picked up D&D in the street or taken comatose to A&E they can instantly recognise which establishment served them. And I certainly agree with ensuring those who do abuse the booze and the system pay for the services they use.

I do hope we can crack this problem somehow though. It is disturbing too many people even if I don't have a huge sympathy for those harming themselves as *adults*. In many ways we can only give them subtle messages - preaching at them has not helped. And if they choose to ignore those messages then we have to fall back on punishing those who harm others as a result.

Oh, and of course, legalise those less noxious alternative substances!

(waiting up for them to return in a couple of hours to try and prevent others suffering!)

Owen said...

Alcohol is a scourge.

We live in a totally hypocritical world. Alcohol is one of the most powerful psychoactive drugs known to man, yet it is sold freely nearly everywhere. No other drug causes more disasters on every level, personal, public, medical, vehicular, etc, and yet the plague continues. No politician has the courage to even begin to propose any of the measures you are proposing. The political lobbies' coffers are too well padded with contributions from the alcohol producers.

It's a racket, we all know it, but no one in positions of responsibility will ever touch it... hell, they're mostly half soused alot of the time anyway, with all those martini lunches and cocktail hours they have to attend.

And this phenomenon of binge drinking by young people who should know better is really worrying. Is it a sign of hopelessness ?

DuchessOmnium said...

Those are really scary brain pictures!

I agree with all that you say. And though I thought even 30 some years ago when I first arrived that Oxford students drank a scary amount, it didn't used to be this bad. I have certainly seen the way one has to negotiate drunken groups of students -- or at least young people -- in the city centre any time after early evening.

Part of the reason that I am in favour of student fees that come (just a little bit) closer to the cost of educating them is precisely this issue. I know you and I don't agree on this one, but what you note is certainly true: those who consider it their right don't spare a moment for the people who have paid taxes to get them there. The poorer kids think harder before they throw away their evenings (not to mention their health) this way.

I think making students more responsible for their own choices (and making a commitment, in the future, to pay for those choices) might make them a little more sober in the here and now.

Jock Coats said...

I learned today, to my disgust, that one department at Brookes has apparently shifted module timetables away from Thursday mornings in order to accommodate the hangovers from a Wednesday night's clubbing. They should bloody fail them if they can't be arsed to get out of bed in time!

Meanwhile I sent my regular hall news email out the other day and included a warning that in a few weeks we would be in "quiet time" so those who were intent on "partying their degree away" would have to find somewhere else other than halls to do it and stop disturbing everyone, and got a petulant email back saying I was being "presumptive and disrespectful"!


The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, so many drinkers have no idea how badly it affects others as well as themselves and everyone who loves them dies a bit with them or finds themselves mourning them before they are even dead. I have come to the conclusion it is a very selfish dis-ease.

Steerforth, a very wise choice!

Martin, it may well have started with 'lad's culture' but the girlies have overtaken the lads some years ago now in extremism.

WWW. So true. I used to think only losers drank and was absolutely shocked to realise intelligent people could also become alcoholics. Then again, I did have a very sheltered upbringing. Well done you on breaking the chain of misery, though am sorry to hear your friend didn't make it. What a needless waste.

Jock, thank you for both your indepth and thoughtful comments. I am shocked to hear Brookes are apparently advocating hangovers by accommodating them. Somewhat contrary to their poster campaign and the reputation they are striving for surely? I think you are right that the establishments who carry on serving them way after it is obvious they are drunk also need stamping down on - again, still against licensing laws yet no one pays any heed. In the name of pastoral care, I'd love to see the SU/Harts re-open giving them competitive prices in a potentially more responsible environment (depending on who's running it).

You have hit the nail on the head Owen about the lack of action on alcohol. Too many vested interests and people hopelessly addicted themselves in power. Then again if we are to see tobacco going under the counter, who knows? However cigarettes have at least been acknowledged as dangerous for some 40 years now, but very few people are waving the red flag re alcohol.

Duchess, interested comment. I am not sure how the tuition fees are going to affect binge-drinking, but I will be fascinated to observe. I think boredom and not having enough challenge and guidance, particularly in the first year is probably at the crux of the matter.