Why do we feel we need to drink alcohol to have fun?

An ex-drinker and an expert share their views

Friends and relationshipsCurrent issues
By VoiceBox ·


Young author

The Gilk phenomenon (that's gin and milk, in case you were wondering)

Wednesday night, year one of university. I had consumed a copious amount of gin, vodka and beer, and was now sat on the bed drinking Barefoot Rosé straight from the bottle. My flatmate and I had had a bit of a session, and I believe I’d already done a conspicuous dance to Come on Eileen, drunk-texted a boy I was seeing, and posted an embarrassing amount of stuff to my Snapchat story that no one was interested in. At about 3am, I crashed out of her door into my own room, texting her in jumbled sentences that I’d lost my phone… from my phone. I then proceeded to try to drink a cup of spare change I kept by my bed before blacking out in a disgruntled heap.

Did I feel anything else but regret the next morning? No. And yet we continue with this odd ritual. Drinking for the first time is a social right of passage. The pressure to try alcohol is huge; we were pretty much expected to enjoy necking shots of sambuca the minute we hit our teens. Check any young person’s social media feed and you’ll find it awash with forgotten nights out, groups of friends cheering at a camera and clasping bottles of some kind of substance, only to wake up the next day with a killer headache and a blank memory.

Alcohol has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, with my parents giving my sister and me watered-down wine when we were little in an attempt to teach us to ‘respect it’. Before long I was drinking Shloer from a ‘posh’ glass whilst proudly stating how it was basically a grown-up drink, buying 1% shandy bass from the corner shop, and pretending to get tipsy on orange juice and lemonade. As I got older, I would sneak alcohol from my parents’ drinks cabinet to do shots with my friends, and steal bottles of fermented wine to drink in my room at three in the morning. By the time I got to university I was indulging in all sorts of odd concoctions, drinks that I can’t look at now without feeling sick – including a particularly delightful beverage called gilk: gin and milk mixed together.

Recently, though, we have seen a shift in attitudes towards alcohol, with a third of young people claiming to be teetotal. Is my generation the last of the heavy drinkers? As we become more aware of the risks alcohol poses to our health, more of us are opting for non-alcoholic gins, wines and beers. As I reflect on all the wasted nights I spent drinking for the sake of it, I begin to wonder how different my time at university might have been without alcohol.

It’s no secret that we’re still a boozed-up nation. We’re exposed to alcohol and its culture all the time, being called on to try that whisky you saw advertised on the tube, or that new brand of beer shown on the TV. A lot of us will find any excuse to drink, whether we’re out for dinner, at a gig, or experiencing a slightly bad Tuesday – and I was no exception.

Recently, I have gone alcohol free. The happiness I found in drinking before has gone, and using alcohol to differentiate my working day from downtime only proved to me that my consumption had gone from fun, to unhealthy. I now feel much more in control – of myself, and of my bank account. The gilk phenomenon is no longer. I plan to keep it that way.

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