Does Freshers Week have too much of an emphasis on binge drinking?

By Emma Videan

As the new academic year rolls in, so does Freshers Week: one to two weeks at the beginning of the year with an emphasis on getting to know flatmates, coursemates and a new city while drinking heavily and spending nights at clubs. For some, there could be no better way to begin the academic year, but for others it is a time of peer pressure and trying to fit in with a drinking culture they are not used to.

Beginning the year with such an intense first week can be a real shock to the system, especially for new students, who for the majority have never lived away from home. Being without parental supervision is an exciting experience for many freshers as it leaves students free to fend for themselves. However, it also leaves them with the responsibility of controlling their alcohol intake and how much they decide to go out.

The difficulty can be that this sudden ability to do as they please can leave new students ill with ‘freshers flu’ and not feeling their best for their first lectures of the year. On average, 23% of students drink once a week and 29% drink two to three times a week while at university. With students drinking frequently – some 26% of students are getting drunk once a week and 15% getting drunk more than once a week – statistics suggest that the emphasis on alcohol might tempt students to spend these years partying rather than studying.

It is entirely possible to find a happy balance of work and play, but not all students are given the support and encouragement they need to find this balance. Information is available upon request from Cardiff University’s Student Support and Wellbeing or external guidance organisations, however, I believe it should be necessary for all students to be given more advice upon beginning university. More information is needed about the hours they should spend working and the importance of keeping an alert and clear mind ahead of their contact hours.

An important question remains about whether Freshers Week is too heavily emphasised on drinking. For non-drinkers, Freshers Week can be very daunting. Without being able to take part in the drinking culture, fitting in and making friends can be challenging. During the first weeks of the year, it is common that different flats will hold pre-drinks and each night of the week will mean a different nightclub. Pre drinks and nightclubs can still be enjoyed without alcohol but the prospect of having to look after drunk friends and being one of the few sober people in the group is not always an appealing one.

For one period at university, I chose to not drink so that I was able to focus on my studies and fitness and it definitely was less appealing to go out with my friends in the evening as I knew that I would be the only one not drinking. While this was only a period of a few months, for those who choose to abstain permanently, it is completely understandable why Freshers Week might not be their idea of a good time. In the infographic, 8% of students surveyed had never drunk alcohol.

For 32% of the students that have never drunk alcohol, it was because of religious or cultural reasons. For these students and others who do not drink it can be easy for them to become excluded from social situations and isolated, especially in first year with new flatmates.

It is for this reason, that the emphasis put on drinking, not only throughout Freshers Week but throughout university life should be addressed more. It can be challenging for non-drinkers to find their place, establish friendships and form early memories with the people that they are surrounded by and binge drinking can have negative health impacts on drinkers.

It could easily be argued that we are too far gone within the drinking culture to try and change the attitudes of the millions of people that go to university in the UK. However, there would be no harm in universities ensuring that there are evening activities available for students who do not wish to drink. For example, student halls could put on film nights in communal areas where people who might not want to go out to nightclubs can meet and bond over other interests.

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