The student drinking culture

Over the past ten years I have frequently, particularly on a Friday night or at weekends, overheard students talking about their plans for a drinking spree. I remember on one occasion hearing one female student say to another at a bus stop that she was planning to get ‘totally smashed’ and that it would not be a good night if she could remember any of it in the morning. Maybe the recession may have put some financial restraints on such conduct, but anyone familiar with higher education will know that this would not have been an isolated attitude.

Of course the longer term impact on health of such conduct would be obvious enough to most observers, but what is the more immediate impact on the students’ studies? This has now been the subject of a study by an American doctoral student, who appears to have found that leisure activities, including drinking, can have a significant impact on academic performance; though a student who is inclined to drink but who also participates in organised extra-curriculur activities may not be so badly affected.

It is certainly the case that excessive drinking has become a problem, leading to non-attendance at classes and poor performance, but also to vandalism and anti-social behaviour that can intimidate members of the community. Most anti-drinking campaigns are directed at motorists or at the wider population more generally. It may be time to target students specifically.

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16 Comments on “The student drinking culture”

  1. Dan Says:

    Ferdinand, this is not entirely unrelated to your previous post on international students, but in my university, all the coffee shops close at 5pm – where else is there to go, but the bar?

    Anyone who has travelled in the Mediterranean loves the idea that we might have a coffee culture here, or even that you might drink a quiet beer or glass of wine with class mates or colleagues – but where? In the US, I’ve read some studies that argue that bringing international students in without the provision of cultural, social and even culinary (would anyone come to Ireland for canteen food) supports, only leads to a very poor experience for foreign students. In financially supporting such developments, one must divert funds from – teaching, thus impoverishing the quality of education one can offer…

  2. Treasa Says:

    It’s not solely a student problem, Ferdinand. One of the things which shocked me greatly about living in Ireland post 1999 which is when I came back after a period abroad was the desire on a lot of Irish adults to get hammered. The “It was a great night, I can’t remember a thing” is not unique to students. It appears to be considered socially acceptable across a lot of walks of life here, including professional people.

    In my view, young Irish people learn it from their elders. If you want to change the drinking culture in Irish students, you will have to find some way of making it less than acceptable across all walks of life. You could argue that if you get it right with students, then the knock on effects will be better in generations to come. I would argue that until you get the older generations to accept it, you will fail to disentangle the relationship with alcohol from a rite of passage in Irish society.

    Remember, in Ireland, many people are unable to handle the idea that many other people don’t drink. I’ve come to the conclusion part of that is a lack of confidence, and to be honest, I think a lot of Irish problems can be linked to the fact that we are – often – collectively unable to think for ourselves. Hence 1) our bid to get everyone to validate our own activities and 2) our desire to escape reality sometimes.

    Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    I went to DCU in the early 90s. I am not sure how some of my co-students could afford to drink the amount they did, but believe me, they did. Economic circumstances are not necessarily a deterrant.

    I would second the comment of your previous correspondant on available alternatives but I think the reason many places are not open later than 5pm is that the market is not economically viable in many places to stay open past working hours. We need to try and change the market but I’m not sure how it might best be done.

  3. Clare Says:

    Interesting piece, Ferdinand.

    I’m not long out of college (3 years) and remember the crazy relationship to alcohol very well. It’s insanity.

    I don’t want to excuse students, but they are taking their cues from a wider societal acceptance of drunkeness. Being a tee totaller in Ireland is akin to being a social outcast, and college is a microcosm of that.

    In terms of changes, as my fellow commentor has suggested, something as simple as a late night cafe would be great. Similarly, I know when I was in college that all events had to have non-alcoholic refreshments too.

    I think there’s a strong case for discussing alcohol in the context of mental health too.

    • Vincent Says:

      Much of the issues come from truly bad planning, or good depending on ones stance.
      Now I must say that I would never have been a fan of Micky Mac but his idea for the cafe-bar was inspired. For as it now stands, between rents, rates and whatever you’re having yourself, the costs of business demands that the customer sits on a chair tipped forward twelve degrees if there is a chair. And everything else is designed that she glug the stuff from a tap.

    • Anna Notaro Says:

      I think you are right Clare, there is a wider societal acceptance of drunkeness (for adults and young people alike) in some Northern European countries, excessive use of alcohol is tolerated or, at worst, becomes a laughing matter…this is not the case of being moralistic about it just of applying that treasured (British) concept ‘common sense’. Strange as it might sound I had my first taste of wine when I was ten back in Italy, my gradfather insisted that I should try it, diluted with some water, not only it made me ‘feel’ like an adult, but it definetely took away all the mystique about it.

  4. Donal Clancy Says:

    Ferdinand,
    I see this drinking culture as a symptom of the more serious cultural malaise of deferred adulthood. We have created a society where teenagers are encouraged to defer responsibility for longer and longer, and are excused fecklessness and behaviours which are unacceptable in adults.
    We see other manifestaions of this such as parents representing students who have failed modules instead of having the student take personal responsibility. Helicopter parents who run their childrens lives as though they are 11 instead of 21.

    In the 1980’s students did not have the resources to “get hammered” and relied heavily on Guinness Sponsored kegs on campus to kick start a drinks night. They had to scrip and save from their weekly budget to fund a few drinks. Students today appear to have far more resources. Car parking problems on campus attest to this.

    Given ample finance and no responsibilities the outcome is to go on the rip. Have students ever behaved differently? I say no, only that they were more resource constrained, and were given more responsibilites for self-management in the past.

  5. Aidan Rowe Says:

    Can the choice to sacrifice one’s long-term health and academic success for what they consider to be a positive subjective experience be legitimate? If the answer is yes, which I think it is, then people should stop being so damn moralistic.

    • Brian Says:

      Take away the euphoria and students won’t want to drink anymore!

      Or to make them drink more responsibly, they need to know more than twice a year how it impacts their studies, so maybe more continuous assessment?

  6. Al Says:

    There has be a lack of leadership on this matter.
    But that is what it takes for the industry to keep going on as it is.

    Student unions being influenced by alco money.
    Third level heads ignoring the problem.

    During any rag week there should be a cage in the centre of the town for the more feral of the celebrants.

    • Perry Share Says:

      Yep, that would be a big deterrent all right! Given that students are prepared to publicly get their legs (and stomachs – yikes!) waxed, their heads shaved or to dress up in giant sumo costumes – all for the sake of entertainment (and fund-raising) – I don’t think getting to live in a cage for a while would be so hard🙂. In fact you’d be swamped with volunteers.

      • Al Says:

        And another thing, judges should bar anyone in front of them from declaring they are a student.
        like it means they are less of a gobshite than Joe soap.
        fees or corporal punishment
        let them decide…

  7. Vincent Says:

    Is a lot of this not a bit po faced.
    I expect that the great and good of the last 50 or so years were askant at the view of now foundation stones of the establishment then spueing their guts across a goodish scelp of the northern hemisphere. Equally if you dropped back 70 years you would find them of 50 the focus if the ire.
    Might it not be that there are vastly more students today and therefore vastly more consumed.

  8. no-name Says:

    “The group that drinks together thinks together”. That is what one senior academic regulary says in order to herd his postgrads into Dublin pubs.

    An announcement is made at the end of nearly all seminars that conversation will continue in the pub and at college events the choice of drink provided is red or white wine — with not even a choice of water for those who don’t like wine.

    Members of faculty send out emails to enourage postgrads to attend events and often end their emails with the information that there will be “free wine!!!!”. Postgrads who don’t fall in with this are left out of the loop (by this I mean that basic information on college matters is passed onto students in the pub and not through more formal channels).

  9. jfryar Says:

    Everyone knows that, certainly in Ireland, Thursday was the student drinking night. Out of a class of 230 students, my lecture would be filled with 20 on a Friday morning. With three lectures a week, 90% of students missed one-third of their course.

    And all at the taxpayers expense. Nursing students didn’t have that luxury since they were required to swipe into lectures. Maybe a reintroduction of fees might solve the alcohol problem🙂


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