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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Alcohol and social life

The main reason why most young people say they drink is to have fun and relax. Alex described idyllic warm summer evenings in his mid to late teens when he and his friends went camping, or to music festivals, and would sit outside with a beer and a BBQ. Raphael says that he always enjoys having a few beers when he is watching the football with friends. Hayley prefers a quiet drink in the pub with people who are already good friends. Kayleigh and Steph both said that they always have a good time when they go out drinking but knew from experience that things can easily go wrong when you’ve had too much to drink.
 

Emma thinks that clubbing and drinking cheap shots and cocktails is fun and part of being young.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Yeah, well I mean a lot of people have just turned eighteen, so they’re going clubbing for the first time and, yeah you’ve got these cheap, cheap shots, cheap drinks, loud music, good time, everyone’s looking gorgeous and, a kind of a drink goes with that, I mean my sober friends night out, they still have a really good time, you know you don’t need to drink to have fun, but it just also again turns into, I need to be drunk, everyone else is drunk, you know, I’m not going to have a good time if you can see that the club looks an absolute mess, everything smells and [laughs] it’s not perhaps the nicest place in the world but, people just, you just drink you know? You’ve got shots of whatever and, cheap cocktails and, it’s just part, it’s just part of it, part of the Uni thing and even just like, even if you’re not at Uni it’s just part of being a young person and being, you know, newly exposed to clubbing and alcohol and all sorts of things, yeah.
What are the effects of alcohol?
People talked about the different ways alcohol can affect someone’s personality. Kim says that when she drinks she becomes more bubbly and talkative. Jamie says that he thinks he becomes a happier, louder and funnier version of his usual self when he’s had a few drinks. Kayleigh pointed out that being drunk can lead you into dangerous situations. Alcohol, or certain types of alcohol, could affect people’s behaviour in a bad way, making them more likely to get into arguments or fights or take risks (see also Alcohol and risks to self and others). 
 

Raphael says that he is a ‘happy drunk’ who likes to get along with people; he thinks alcohol can...

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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Yeah very happy drunk,I can always seem to remember as well which is quite good.
 
You seem to remember?
 
Yeah I always like and it, but then I always find when you’re drunk you never feel like you’re embarrassing yourself by like, talking funny or saying stupid things but you always wake up in the morning and then you remember what you were saying and then you’re like, ‘oh yeah maybe I was a bit embarrassing’. But I find that I’m quite a happy drunk, quite like to get along with people and smile, so it doesn’t really matter.
 
What do you see are the positive sides of drinking alcohol?
 
It’s easier to socialise I think, I think if you were to put two people in a room without alcohol and two people in a room with alcohol I find it would be a lot quicker at getting to know each other if they had alcohol than if they didn’t have alcohol they kind of open up, people open up a bit more. 
 

Kayleigh says that alcohol affects everyone differently, it can be fun or dangerous.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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You don’t know what kind of way you’re with drinking until you start drink, and I mean some people yeah are quite fun if they have a drink, you know they have they get a bit silly and, you know, they giggle, some people fall asleep, some people just get really flirty but then some people get aggressive and I think that’s what the people don’t realise. And then some people who drink and they carry on drinking and they, because they don’t care, because they think ‘oh it’s only when I’ve had a drink’ I think that’s the true effect of alcohol it’s not the having a good time it what, it’s what happens when you go home, you know?
 

What happens to you and it’s quite dangerous because it can ruin your life, you know, and it, it’s, it, you could spoil your whole life for the sake of having a drink... 

Drinking habits after leaving home
When young people move out of their parents’ home, or go on a gap year, some took advantage of the extra freedom by drinking more alcohol. Jen said that, at University, she didn’t have to ‘answer to anyone’. 
 

Ben only went out at weekends when he was at school but started drinking more on his gap year;...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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I remember when I was at school pretty it much, I mean I never went out on week nights really, only on weekends. And even then I wouldn’t like necessarily drink both nights of the weekend. Then once it came to like having a gap year that was probably when I started like drinking more than just on the weekends and certainly when you like travel well for a lot of people like me and [name] I don’t know if he mentioned we went to like South East Asia and like it’s a big kind of. Yeah it just one, like everything is sort of drink everywhere really cheap and sort of yeah special places like Thailand it’s kind of like everyone just like it’s some sort of a big party really. So that sort of like, yeah I guess the first time really kind of drinking like more than just the weekends I suppose. And then you sort of, yeah I guess maybe you’re in that kind of mindset once you sort of come back home and then go off to uni and sort of.
Some of the young people we talked to were surprised by how much alcohol featured at University Fresher’s Weeks. Heavy drinking seemed to be a big part of some people’s experience of the first year at University.  A group of young men pointed out that University students are required to spend less time in class than students at school and wondered if this partly explained the heavy drinking during the week. However, they also said that the medical students they knew, who had more lectures per week than anyone else, were the heaviest drinkers they knew!
 

Group discussion about the drinking culture at University and the reasons behind it.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Hugh' I think I’m a more immature drinker since university definitely than before. Like I think I drink more irresponsibly than ever before since being at university.
 
Why do you think that?
 
Hugh' Just because like the, the culture the things they promote like these nights, it’s Freshers nights and these kind of sport initiations and...
 
Alex' Probably those other people’s games as well
 
Ben' and games people pick up. You basically mix with people all over the country with all their drinking games, all your ideas and it just, it’s kind of...
 
I mean I have heard about these drinking games. Can you tell me more about these competitions?
 
Ben' That’s, yeah that’s something very common in first term of uni because it’s a good way to kind of meet people I suppose. And it’s something you do if you don’t really like maybe know people as well. Although you could still do it with like your friends but yeah
 
Alex' But we never would like. If you go back to kind of Year 12/13 and even gap year we wouldn’t. Well I don’t remember once kind of just playing these sort of like games stupidly drunk. It would be like a quiet drink maybe.
 
Ben' I think my experience of drinking games is generally they kind of don’t really work and you don’t get that drunk because they just take so long. I mean this isn’t for most people but they just take so long and [ha] they have really kind of, yeah they don’t really work but yeah for a lot of people who kind of I’m sure drinking game would just get you very drunk very quickly.
 
Hugh' I think, I think they work. They’re just really popular at university.
 
Alex' Yeah it’s fun.
 
It’s fun?
 
Alex' Up to a point [laugh].
 
Changes in drinking habits over time
Young people talked about how, as they got older, their drinking habits changed and they started to drink less.
 

Stefanie drinks less heavily now compared to when she was younger.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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Once you have more bills and someone to share your life with I think the urge to go out every day with your friends and get drunk just dissipates and you don’t have that any more. 
 
And also as you mature I think genuinely it doesn’t seem as important to get drunk. You can enjoy yourself just as much having a few, if not more, because you can remember what happened. I remember being to the cinema once drunk and not remembering the film at all which is entirely pointless. But I go to theatre, have a couple of wines then it’s quite good.
 
 

Joe describes how his attitude to drinking has changed over time. Now it’s more about occasional socialising.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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When we were sixteen we first started having alcohol it was, it was all kind of taboo, it was like ‘oh we’re not supposed to be drinking’ and it was, it was nice to go to the parties, and everyone, would have a few drinks and enjoy it, and then when we turned eighteen it was like ‘oh we’re allowed out now, we’re allowed into clubs and pubs’ so we’d go out kind of most weekends , go into all the different clubs in the City and having, yeah getting quite drunk because you can. you know you can legally go in the place and have sixteen pints [slight laugh] if you, if you wanted to, so I think there was a lot of kind of, excitement about being, being allowed to do that at that age, , and as time’s gone on from that probably it became less frequent, we’d, we’d just start going out just once a month and, you know, as opposed to every, every kind of weekend, and the, it would be more a special occasion not just let’s go out and get drunk for the sake of getting drunk because we can it, more it would be oh there’s a good DJ playing or, you know, there’s a good band playing let’s go see them and get drunk. and definitely as, as, as year on year goes on you, you, I don’t really go and get drunk for the sake of getting drunk anymore, and you know I’ll, I’m happy to have a drink but I’d more in, it’s more for the social side than the sake of getting drunk so, definitely happens less often now than it, than it used to.


Last reviewed: July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
 
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