Welcome to Fresher's week

Lauren Booker | September 2019 | 9 minutes

As you take on Freshers’ week – or actually any year at uni – it can feel like drinking is compulsory. Images of student-plus-alcohol excess at Fresher’s week are common and many view heavy drinking as synonymous with student life – but it doesn’t have to be. In this blog alcohol consultant Lauren shares some tips for making sure drinking doesn’t ruin your night, what to do when you don’t fancy drinking, and how to know when you need to get some extra support.

Should I be drinking?

That’s totally up to you. If you fancy a drink with friends, go for it. If you don’t fancy it, don’t (more on that below.) If you do want to drink but aren’t used to it (or actually even if you are), it’s wise to drink slowly. Aim for tipsy rather than paralytic. If you alternate soft drinks with alcohol and slow down once you start to feel the effects, you can have a night to remember, rather than one you’d rather forget.

If you don’t fancy drinking, whether for a night or at all, you don’t have to.

Universities and colleges have such a wide variety of clubs and associations, you’re bound to find something you love and people to connect with over something other than alcohol. Whether you’re into sport, music, socialising or something completely different, your social life doesn’t have to revolve around the nearest pub. More young people than ever – around 1 in 5 – don’t drink at all, so if you’d rather not drink, you’re not alone.

You don’t have to go in for every round.

And if the idea of skipping rounds sets your skint student brain reeling, why not start a round with a smaller group of people who are drinking at your pace? On that subject, some people are likely to try to pressure you to drink more than you fancy. A polite ‘No thanks’ is enough to stop many of them, but if you need more tips for getting people off your back, check out this blog.

Make sure you and your friends have a good night.

Dealing with a drunken friend can be a real pain but a little bit of planning and you can avoid that embarrassing 2am vomit fest or bailing them out from the local custody suite – or vice versa. Make sure they (and you) stay hydrated, stick to one drink rather than mixing, eat before you start drinking and pace yourself. Then take at least 24 hours off the booze to give your body a chance to recover.

Be prepared.

Carry condoms and, more importantly, use them! It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment, especially after a few drinks, but keeping condoms handy makes it more likely you’ll use them when, er, necessary. On another sexual health safety note – when you’re drunk might not be the best time to make decisions about sexual partners. Sure, your hormones are up for it, but waiting until it’s definitely you, not just the booze, that wants the encounter, makes for more fun when you do get down to it. On a more serious note, if you or your partner are drunk you may not be able to give consent.

You know you’ve had too much when...

Having a drink and being sociable is one thing, but it’s too much when if by end of the night you’re being sick in the toilets, squaring up to people for a fight or worried that you might not be able to get yourself home safely. If you’ve ever woken up after a night out covered in bruises that you don’t remember getting, you’ve been the victim of a UBI (unexplained beer injury). Alcohol affects the parts of your brain that control coordination as well as numbing pain, so it’s easy to injure yourself whilst drinking and not feel the effects until the following morning. Ouch! If these are happening to you more often than not, it might be time to cut back.

Keep an eye on how much you’re drinking.

Current guidelines say men and women shouldn’t drink more than 2 or 3 units a day (that’s about a glass of wine or a pint of normal strength lager). Everyone should lay off the drink for 2 or 3 days a week. Many of us drink more than this but it’s good to know your limits and stick to them at least most of the time. Why not keep track of your units with the Try Dry app? (Free to download from Google Play and the App store!). That way, you can work out what the right level is for you.

You’re no light weight.

The reality is your tolerance to alcohol can build up over time if you’re drinking regularly, so the amount of booze that initially made you feel drunk might not after a while; and that can encourage you to drink more. Financially, and for the sake of your studies, it’s a good idea to keep this in check and maybe limit your drinking to weekends for a while, or why not reset altogether and try a Dry January?

Consequences.

If you’re a student, your biggest drinking worry is probably can you afford the next round or how can you avoid throwing up on a night out. The shocking death of student Ed Farmer in 2018 after a university initiation event illustrates all too clearly that too much alcohol can be fatal. Fresher’s week often sees students hospitalised or worse as a result of alcohol poisoning or accidents – falls, drowning, collisions with cars – whilst under the influence. Staying safe on a night out is easier if you’ve got good friends to help you out if you do get a bit worse for wear.

Knowing when it’s time to get help.

If your mates are hinting that you need to slow down or you’re not getting things done because of the daily hangover – time for a rethink. Keep a drink diary or use the Try Dry app for a few weeks and work out just how many units you’re knocking back. There are lots of online tools and apps that show whether your drinking is putting you at risk. If it is, cutting out some units or drinking sessions should do the trick. If you’re finding that hard, contact your local alcohol agency for support. You can find out more about that here.

Above all, have fun. If drinking ever stops feeling fun, cut back or take a break.