Booze, Blackouts and Brain Bleeds: The Dark Side of Freshers’ Week

Freshers’ Week, for many students, is a time of freedom and their first taste of living independently away from home. The first week of a student’s university life is typically synonymous with nights out; but for some this hedonistic time can turn sour, as a toxic combination of binge drinking and lack of experience can lead to the week from hell.

“There were a few nights where I genuinely do not remember a thing. I can’t even recall them now”, admits Peter White*, when discussing his Freshers’ Week experience. Peter is not alone, come September many new students will find themselves in similar situations due to excessive drinking.

A recent Impact survey found that 33% of students did something they regretted during Freshers’ Week whilst under the influence of alcohol, and for Peter his lack of memory when intoxicated led to him feeling regretful. “When you wake up in your bed and you’re still laid in your clothes and covered in mud, you’re like ‘how on earth did this happen?’” he tells Impact, adding: “In hindsight it was a bit stupid really”.

A culture of excess

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This September thousands of students will be heading to Nottingham ready for their Freshers’ Week; but with 55% of current UoN students believing that Freshers’ Week is too focused on binge drinking, it does raise the question, just how dangerous is the culture of excess that surrounds the week?

One student highlighted that the duration of Fresher’s club nights can lead to more excessive drinking. “There is too much focus on binge drinking and clubbing. 7pm starts at clubs for these nights is a joke, yet they insist you go this early. With pre-drinks as well it means you are drinking for 8+ hours straight. It’s expensive, tiring and not overly great to be honest”.

Angharad Smith, Coordinator of the Week One programme, responded, highlighting that club nights are just one of many options available during Freshers’ Week. “As the Week One team we work hard to provide a range of different events for people. There are a whole range of events available for all students to get involved with, from movie nights, silent discos, hypnotism, ice skating, comedy nights and even a Ghost walk”.

She adds: “There will be some students who want to drink and go clubbing – they are adults after all – so we don’t ignore that, but it is far from the only thing we do. There’s plenty of choice in the programme”.

For those like Peter who do choose to participate in the alcohol-related events, just what is the expense of it all? He tells Impact that his average Freshers’ night out cost “at least about £40-£50 a night, maybe more”. But for some students the true cost of Freshers’ Week is not coming out of their wallet.

Medical Emergencies

“I definitely wouldn’t have been so stupid, let alone downing vodka out of the bottle”

One student who knows all too well about the dangers of binge drinking is Grant Rodgers*, whose drinking led to him being hospitalised during his first term of university. “I definitely regret it because of how serious it became”, Grant tells Impact. When asked if he would be more cautious if revisiting that night, he responds: “I definitely wouldn’t have been so stupid, let alone downing vodka out of the bottle”.

While Grant’s experience of binge drinking may seem extreme, Impact’s survey found that over 5% of students received medical attention for alcohol related injuries during their Freshers’ Week.

One fresher’s first trip to Mooch ended in disaster when the emergency services had to be called due to an excessive drinking session by one member of their group. They tell Impact: “When no one was particularly looking or paying attention, one girl in our group downed half a bottle of Pimms (straight!) and a quarter of a bottle of vodka that she snuck in from halls. I spent the next two hours looking after her. She peed herself twice. I ended up having to call paramedics”.

Dangerous Situations

Binge drinking can have a serious effect on one’s health. From alcohol poisoning to liver damage, the effect of Freshers’ Week on students’ bodies can be immense. But it’s not just their health that students are harming during a binge drinking session, as consuming copious amounts of alcohol can result in a loss of self-awareness, therefore leading to dangerous situations.

“I have a friend who got second degree burns on her shoulder from being pushed by someone drunk into a BBQ”

“I drank too much and was mugged. I was found by a passer-by who rang an ambulance. I had sustained a brain bleed”, is the harrowing tale of binge drinking from one UoN student. Another told Impact: “I have a friend who got second degree burns on her shoulder from being pushed by someone drunk into a BBQ”.

Frieda James* is one of the 29% of UoN students who admit to putting themselves in danger during Freshers’ Week due to their alcohol consumption. She tells Impact: “I think I probably did it [blacked out] for 3 out of the 5 nights of Freshers’”.

“I won’t lie, I’m kind of amazed I didn’t end up getting mugged during Freshers’ Week”, she adds. “I got lost by myself. My friends and I ended up splitting up. Two of us went to go and get cash and the rest of us went somewhere else. I got split up from the person I was getting cash with, and I ended up getting lost and just wandering round the city that I’ve never been in before. It wasn’t exactly the nice part of Nottingham”.

“29% of students admitted to putting themselves in danger during Freshers’ Week due to their alcohol consumption”

Ironically, the alcohol that put her in that situation also prevented her from recognising the danger of her predicament. “I should have felt unsafe much sooner. It was only really when I realised ‘you have no idea where you are, and you only have a few people’s numbers because you’ve just met them’, that’s when I got quite worried”.

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Peter’s drinking also altered his perception of danger during his Freshers’ Week: “I don’t feel like I was in any danger but I suppose not having been able to remember what went off, I can’t really comment. I could have done anything really”.

“I didn’t feel threatened in Freshers’ Week”, says Claire Walker*, adding: “but you do have to put your trust in strangers looking after you to some extent”.

“Our team of 110 trained reps work extremely hard all week to ensure a safe and welcoming environment, providing a crucial system of support for Freshers’ Week”, says Angharad, adding: “For many first years, starting university is a very daunting experience and the reps are there to take some of this pressure off. Indeed we are the only university to provide free buses both to and from the clubs to ensure maximum protection and safety to vulnerable first years. Our advice would always be to avoid being pressured by others and to do what you want to do”.

Lack of Experience

“When you’re getting egged on by your friends and you’ve just got your student loan you feel like you can keep on going continuously”

With Freshers’ Week being many students’ first time living away from home, a sense of new-found freedom and a lack of experience can lead to dangerous behaviour.

“I think a lot of people haven’t had access to drink and haven’t really experienced being drunk properly”, says Peter. “When you’re getting egged on by your friends and you’ve just got your student loan you feel like you can keep on going continuously. I think that a lot of people aren’t used to it and it can have some serious consequences”.

Frieda agrees, telling Impact that the problem with Freshers’ Week is that “people don’t know their limits, and they find out what they are in Freshers’ Week. In some ways it’s good that they find them out, but at the same time that’s how people get into trouble”. That trouble could be of a medical nature, or even a lawful one, with 7% of students revealing that they committed a criminal act during Freshers’ Week.

“It would be made better if certain people could actually handle drink before, or at least experience getting drunk before they actually come to university, because I don’t think that they understand actually how much they’re drinking”, Peter adds.

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Chloe Averill, the SU’s Welfare Officer tells Impact: “Being away from home and wanting to make new friends, some people can end up doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do, and that they then go on to regret. It is hard to realise it at the time but you need to be aware of your limits so that you don’t put yourself in any danger whilst drinking. Try and be aware of where the peer pressure is coming from and don’t be afraid to say a polite but firm “no thanks” if you’re not comfortable with doing something”.

Freshers’ Week can be dangerous, but it can also be great, so long as a little caution is present. For the majority of students Freshers’ Week is an enjoyable experience. “I’ve got some fairly ugly photos but aside from that there are no horror stories”, Claire tells Impact.

“Freshers’ Week is good as it gets people to know each other and find people that they’re probably going to be friends with for the rest of their lives”, says Peter. “I’d definitely drink less because it’s Freshers’ Week, pace yourself and enjoy it.

“Don’t just end up getting smashed and then feeling ill, going out, getting smashed, feeling ill and continuously getting drunk until the end of the week. You end up feeling completely disgusting and you’ll never get over your hangover”, he adds.

“I enjoyed it. It was good… I couldn’t do it again though”

Chloe emphasises that Freshers’ Week should be a time free of pressure, advising those new to UoN this September: “If you do feel that you are being pressured to drink then let your Week One reps know, they are really friendly and well trained, or email me at the Students’ Union and we’ll make sure that it gets sorted. We want people to have a great time at Uni and we don’t want excessive alcohol or pressure spoiling that for you”.

It’s a one-time opportunity – living and socialising with a group of people you’ve never met before whilst sharing the common experience of embarking on a new chapter of your life. Freshers’ Week undoubtedly has its drawbacks but, as long as care is taken towards personal safety and students are aware of the dangers of binge drinking, it may just be one of the best weeks of your life.

“I enjoyed it. It was good”, Frieda says of her Freshers’ Week. “I couldn’t do it again though”.

Natasha Gregson

*All names have been changed.

Survey conducted in July 2014.

Originally published in Impact Magazine.

Photo Credits: TMAB2003 via Flickr, Trouni via Flickr, Sebastian Surendar via Flickr and Alex Loach via Flickr.

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