For many, myself included, the excitement of starting University is enhanced by the prospect of Freshers’ Week: a whole week of minimal work where you can drink without being judged for falling up the stairs or into the campus lake. Many freshers certainly see it as a way to escape responsibilities and put their new-found freedoms to the test. However, the underlying problem with this is that these students are not considering the potential damage they may be doing to themselves.
It can’t be denied that alcohol misuse can have extremely harmful consequences, with around 1.2 million people being admitted to hospital per year as a result of it. With regards to York itself, the dangers of uncontrolled alcohol consumption have become apparent through the series of tragic deaths, including that of Megan Roberts, a York St. John student, during the first five months of 2014. Since January of 2014, four people have drowned in the River Ouse: worryingly, three of them did it after a night out gone wrong.
Alcohol and drinking have undeniably become key elements of British society, with York alone boasting at least 180 pubs. The drinking culture that Britain has become associated with, like it or not, does therefore pave the way for the infamous binge drinking that is often associated with Freshers’ Week.
It is binge drinking that has recently come under fire through the desires of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse. One main aim of the group is for alcoholic products to contain mandatory health warning labels, similar to those present on tobacco products.
Although I don’t see a problem with introducing these labels, it is debatable just how much of an effect they will have. The issues associated with alcohol that Britain faces are arguably far too deep rooted for a few threatening messages or pictures to solve. As long as there are people prepared to provide underage children with alcohol, the reality shown by a 2008 study, we have no hope of truly tackling any issue, label or no label.
Furthermore, even with the presence of a health warning label, it would be pretty impressive if the majority of freshers made it through the week without having at least one drink. Many will inevitably have quite a few more than one and this is no surprise as drinking, to an extent, has become normal behaviour in Britain. However, you still need to moderate yourself. Although alcohol can be useful in easing the tension and awkwardness caused by being pushed into a flat with up to sixteen new people, it is important to make sure you can remember their names afterwards.
For many students, University and the city of York are new and unknown. The absence of familiarity makes the dangers of binge drinking more profound. Learning your limits is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn as it prevents the crossing of the thin line between fun and danger. However, these limits must be learnt. Forcing that lesson onto people, through health labels or however else, is an approach ultimately doomed to fail.
Moderation, and the importance of learning it, is, inevitably, down to those consuming the alcohol. The majority of freshers eventually manage it successfully. But any attempt at tackling binge-drinking by enforcing moderation will inevitably remain fruitless, until individuals learn to control the potential issue with regards to their own lives.