Thursday, 29 August 2013

Boredom binge drinkers: How alcohol has replaced recreation (and maybe religion) in young adults. Part 1

I've been wanting to do this post for sometime, and it comes from a what seems like a very mechanical trait of mine. Firstly, I want to cover the place I live and the culture that we have here that is alcohol focused, drugs I will come to later. Alcohol has a lot to answer for in British towns and cities, and I believe it correlates in someway with the decline of religion but is also an amalgamation of multiple changes in society. 

Quite a wordy title, admittedly. Yet being one of those working class young adults for whom alcohol has replaced all other sort of recreation, I could find no other way of putting it. I’m 24 years young, just finished a degree in media and currently facing a problem I have faced multiple times; I’m bored to death with the cycle of binge drinking- hang over’s- regret and then binge drinking. The obvious answer would be to just stop and this is something I and everyone else thinks after a hard night drinking and an even harder morning after. But for many it never happens, the hang over wears off, the enticement into alcohols escapist lair gets stronger. It’s Friday and you’re there again back at the watering hole for another ever more costly dose of poison induced fun, fun that is bought at a ridiculous price, both financially and physically.

First look at the facts, the average young adult which categorically speaking addresses 18-24 year olds is on an average wage of  around £7 per hour. The average UK working statistic is 32.3 hours making an average wage at most of £226 per week before tax and around £180.00 after. Admittedly not the most accurate statistics, but from firsthand accounts this is an optimistic review of a young person’s weekly income. I currently earn only around £100 pounds per week  (working part time) and this doesn't even begin to cover the plethora of unemployed who’s job seekers allowance is around £50 per week.  However employment is not the sole contributing factor to a persons finances, spending is obviously a huge part of it and lets be honest with ourselves, drinking is no longer a luxury or a rarity it is seen as a given and necessary part of our society customs and enjoyment. It has become a weekly expense, recent research at UCL shows that young adults are the highest consumers of alcohol consuming on average 15 units on what they call 'the heaviest drinking day'.

The offer of alcohol at very low prices sustains a culture of dangerous drinking. In particular, heavy drinkers who want to contain their costs in the face of rising prices but do not want to cut back their consumption have the opportunity to buy cheaper products from cheaper outlets. Similarly, young people with limited cash can still drink a lot of alcohol by turning to cheap,high-strength products. Cheap alcohol has been shown to be particularly attractive to harmful and dependent drinkers, binge drinkers and young drinkers. - The Stirling University
From personal experience, a heavy night drinking in the pub will cost you around £20-£30 on alcohol, not including money involved with going out such as entrance fee's and taxis. It might be a cheap-ish recreation due to cheap-ish beer but overall the pub takes a huge chunk of someones wages not to mention that being drunk fuels our decadent behavior and encourages more spending. 

 It's not hard to see how we have ended up here. Just think about how milestones are measured out by way of drinking, the reason 18 is such an important birthday, becoming a legal adult is over shadowed by the fact you can now buy alcohol.  The reality is most are drinking well before their 18th more likely before 16th and it is celebrated as the normal thing to be indoctrinated into the weekly cycle of living for the weekend and getting drunk.  Another aspect is that we are a society that is living for the moment and desires to be someone or something. We use booze to fill our lust for life and to bolster our ego.
For me, I had always been a big drinker admittedly a binge drinker. Yet, I had a slow realisation when I attended university that  the drinking life I had come to be used to wasn't the done thing around the people I met there. University's have the reputation for a drinking culture, but I would argue this is central to the 'dorm' lifestyle and not the University itself. So being outside of a dormitory clique the people I associated with were international students and students who lived at home in Birmingham. What I would never imagine is that about 10 miles from the place I grew up is where I would learn the most about the world and the people in it. More so I didn't expect, while attending uni in the gritty second city to be taught a new way of living- and it was drink free. 
I met born again Christians, Hindus and Muslims and around them my drinking culture was not just out of place it began to feel a bit pathetic. These weren't just international students they were British and they didn't drink and would you believe it they were really interesting people who enjoyed life without the bottle hanging over them as a social lubricant. They had that other thing though, that thing I was missing. They had religion. 
This got me to thinking about how we spend our weekends, even now our week nights. We spend it going out, entering into a world of fuzz waking up Saturday or Sunday morning, destroyed from the night before. We turn a relatively normal thing into an imagined fun because drink allows us to escape, to become someone confident, fun, carefree. Doesn't it? Isn't that the perk of intoxication, we become temporarily a better version of ourselves? 
It certainly doesn't feel that way the day after when we hear the stories of what we did and we feel embarrassed we might say, "I can't believe I did that!" But isn't that what we wanted? A change in the routine, a shut down of constant thought, of stress, we want to talk to people and not be concerned they wont like us, we want to approach people, to talk rubbish with people, lose all inhibitions and just dance.  
Well I went to a place once, where no alcohol was being consumed, and there were people that were expressing themselves, that were looking happy, that were socialising with people they didn't know and approaching strangers and newcomers and it was a church. And while I sat there, slowly sipping from a bottle of water trying to fend of a hang over induced panic attack, I envied those people so much. I was a mess,  I couldn't talk to anyone I could just sit and wait for it to be over so I could have my panic attack in the comfort of my own self inflicted misery. 
I had ended up in church because I have a friend who is Christian and this is where a hole forms in my theory, but don't worry it's easily stitched back up. She is my best friend, she is from an Asian background and has always been a Christian, but even though I love her, her life as a Christian I would argue is not a very dedicated one. It is one bore out of tradition and loyalty to her family. She might attend Church sometimes, but more times than not she too is hung over. Now unlike those people I met in University, she is not as passionate about her religion. She will say "I don't really know but I do believe." Which is fine, I am not here to say true Christians do this and you should be doing this. No my point is there seems to be a strong correlation between strong dedication to your faith, interaction with a religious community and a distinct lack of drinking. 

This brings me to my next point, the Christian I met at university filled her social hours with church activities, performances,charity work, prayer meetings, youth groups. She had things to do with her spare time and she enjoyed them most of all she didn't drink. Again my Muslim friend who doesn't drink through custom, when we went out we went to places I didn't go with my other friends because we had a one track mind and that is 'find the booze'. With her we watched films, played pool tried new restaurants and all done with a glass of coke or water instead of a bottle of wine. I didn't miss drinking, but once back in my normal circle I began to drink again and sit in the same pub spending my money and waking up poor and sick.
And that's the problem, we have become so focused on indulging and escaping that we don't even consider the alternatives. I must say here that I understand that aside from religion there are a lot of reasons people don't drink and fill their time with healthier non drinking activities but I am addressing the average- the majority- the people of my town who I see week after week and we are all doing the same thing, the same Facebook statuses about getting reading and then feeling terrible.It's so repetitive yet acceptable it has taken over any other sort of activity. When a friend and I decided to stop drinking she actually Googled "what to do that doesn't involve drinking" she'd forgotten and its not really a surprise I think there is a whole generation of us that has forgotten how to spend our time without drink. And I think it's a problem.
I haven't drank for three weeks, it doesn't seem much but that translates as three weekends where I have had to fight off temptation and persuasion and occupy my time in a different way. In part two (because I'm waffling on) I am going to look at the realistic alternatives and solutions to our boredom binge drinking and explain a little more about what I've been experience while I've been off the booze. 

Also to read more on this subject: 

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