Wine, vodka, gin, beer, whisky, champagne, port, rum, absinthe, cider, ale… the catalogue of alcoholic drinks stocked on shelves across the country is almost as innumerable as the health issues ensuing from excessive use of them: cancer of the mouth, neck and throat; high-blood pressure, an irregular heart beat and cirrhosis of the liver, to name the most severe.
You may have thought, then, that at our hallowed universities (where the most intelligent young minds of our society can be found) students would make a deliberate effort to avoid exposing themselves to alcohol – a substance that David Nutt, a former Government drugs adviser, identifies as “the most dangerous drug in the UK.”
You would, however, be totally wrong.
Whilst to some extent there has always been a drinking culture in our universities, mostly due to the social freedom most wide-eyed students discover once they have waved their parents goodbye, the emergence and dangerous development of what Dr. David Nylund describes as the ‘new lad’ (a misogynistic and amoral hedonist, seemingly) since the mid-1990s has slowly strengthened the grip that alcohol has on university students.
Nowadays, for instance, as one female second year English Literature and Spanish student at a Russell Group university says, “Alcohol is seamlessly ingrained into the majority of most students’ lifestyles, and the laddish camaraderie that exists among male students certainly encourages this culture. Drinking alcohol is now not only a means of enjoying yourself among friends, but also a way of proving your worth to your peers in student sports clubs and societies.”
Dr. Nylund, interestingly, suggests this ‘new lad’ culture was an initial response to the “humiliation and indignity” caused by the ‘girl power!’ movement during the 1990s – remember the Spice Girls? Men, he explains, felt “battered by feminism” throughout this period, resulting in the subjugation of the stereotypically domineering male ego and its subsequent fashioning into a passive image.
Men, thereafter, needed to react to second-wave feminism; they needed to find a new identity.
However, rather than reinventing the lad as a respectful and righteous man, the ‘new lad’, the male response to the ‘girl power!’ movement, can only be regarded as an exacerbation of the insensitive, binge-drinking and aggressive old one.
Consequently, it is unsurprising that this period saw the inception and subsequent popularity boom in ‘Lads’ Mags’ such as Maxim (1995), FHM (rebranded in 1994) and Loaded (1994); whilst films that promoted male hegemony such as ‘Snatch’ (2000) and ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ (1998) also proved to be tremendously successful. ‘Snatch’, according to Guy Ritchie, the film’s Director, earned over a 400% profit from its $3,000,000 budget as it grossed £12,137,698 in the UK alone, for instance.
The new lad may have managed, therefore, to liberate men throughout the last decade of the 20th century from the grasps of ‘girl power!’ Since then, however, today’s young adults, the generation who grew up amidst the confusion of the gender conflict, have now also become advocates of its culture; they have suppressed any potential feminist movement since the millennium – a notion that is perhaps most patent in the laddish lifestyle of the university student.
Throwing up one’s alcohol-saturated stomach contents outside clubs (an indication of Dr. Nylund’s alcohol-loving ‘new lad’) is not only accepted but also, shockingly, the norm, for instance.
If you’re at a ‘pre-lash’ (a quasi-house party where students drink, often heavily, to avoid spending money later on in clubs), it is also common practice to spew in someone’s bin, sink or, if the queue for the bathroom’s too long, on their carpet. From my own experience as student over the past two years, usage of the toilet is an ostensible luxury.
The disturbing connotations of flagellation evoked by the verb ‘to lash’ in the term ‘pre-lash’ should not be ignored, too. Many, I’m sure, will argue that its meaning should not be taken seriously, that it is tongue-in-cheek. However, whilst the term may well have been so when it was first coined, it simply is not now due to the amount students drink before going out. “At a pre-lash,” according to one male French and Spanish student, for example, “it is not unusual to drink a bottle of wine over an hour” – an amount of alcohol equivalent to three times the legal drink driving limit.
Students, then, are foolishly and dangerously abusing their own bodies, which may have serious consequences to their physical health in the future. “This kind of activity contributes to the fact that we now see people presenting with alcohol-related liver cirrhosis at a much younger age,” as Dr. Varuna Aluvihare, liver specialist at King’s College Hospital, says, for instance.
“Any day of the week I might now expect now to see 20-to-30 year old patients with livers working at only 5% or 10% of their normal function and needing a transplant, while 15 to 20 years ago we rarely saw this in people under 50” (Gardner).
Some students, staggeringly, have in fact started drinking before even going out to a pre-lash. “Almost regularly”, as one female Biochemistry student from a leading UK university says, for instance, “I watch and time my male house mates ‘strawpedo’ (downing a drink as quickly as possible via use of a bendy straw) their bottles of wine, often in less than ten seconds, before the pre-lash”.
She then goes on to state: “I wouldn’t have believed anyone before I came (to university) that I would accept this behaviour as normal. However, maybe we have all just learned to accept it as day-to-day normality.”
An alcohol-fuelled lad culture has become indoctrinated, therefore, into student society. It is emerging as a prevalent problem in universities and investigations into its negative effects suggest it is a matter that must be resolved soon. Recent studies by Cardiff University’s Gabrielle Ivinson and Open University’s Patricia Murphy, for example, both identify lad culture as a source of behavioural confusion, whilst Adrienne Katz has even linked it to depression and suicide.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the contemporary lad culture, though, is how female students have also become affected by it. ‘Drunkorexia’ (a term to describe the female students’ habit of not eating in order to prevent putting on weight from drinking alcohol) has become such a widespread issue that it is now also subject to scientific research.
Dr. Victoria Osbourne, for instance, the leading scientist in the study of ‘drunkorexics’, states: “depriving the brain of adequate nutrition and consuming large amount of alcohol (the drunkorexic’s lifestyle)…can cause short and long term problems including concentrating, studying and making decisions.”
Judging from what I have written in this article, to clarify my own opinion on this matter, it may seem that I am in favour of abstinence from alcohol; however I am not at all. I regularly enjoy a drink or two (sometimes, perhaps, even more) in pubs and clubs with my friends both at home and at university.
It has not been a narcissistic or pretentious wish for pedantry that has made me write this article, but a serious and justifiable concern for my fellow students: the infrastructure of our country’s future academic and political system.
Each student in each university should remember that they all have the ultimate control over themselves and, therefore, their decisions. Peer pressure, which is undoubtedly an influential factor in student society’s drinking culture, may at times appear to be overwhelmingly powerful but it can be thwarted easily by one simple yet often forgotten word: no.
Tragically, however, if laddish students continue with their reckless rate of alcohol consumption their livers, simply put, and may not last for long.
*Ben Stupples: 2nd year university student.