Is student culture changing?

Returning to university as a postgraduate prompted me to reflect on my hazy undergraduate days back in 2004-2007. My most striking memories are of new friends, the novelty of living away from home and the endless reading in the library. Another lasting impression was the drinking culture. A typical day in the life of an undergraduate in 2004 consisted of midweek dancing with a ‘snakebite’ in hand, recovering from a hangover by watching neighbours (pre Netflix) and a red bull fuelled sprint to the essay deadline.

Coming back to university years later it seems the culture is changing. Back in early 2000’s the Internet was not such a big part of student life. Facebook had only just been born, there were no friend requests from mums and aunties, just other students slowly creeping over from Myspace to tentatively share a photo. The photos were not particularly refined; this was a pre-selfie and filter era. In general our lives of watching neighbours and eating toast were not particularly aesthetically pleasing or instagrammable.

I have noticed that today’s students spend just as much time thinking about fitness trackers, green juices, avocados and binge watching series on Netflix as they do in the student union. It seems that the Internet has brought health and lifestyle trends that have resulted in less drinking.

As a psychology student I am always interested in finding out if my views and theories can be backed up and supported with empirical evidence. I discovered that the mental picture I have of my student days was supported by research that interviewed undergraduates and found that alcohol played a central role in student life with excessive drinking being the norm (University of Lancaster, 2006).

This research also highlighted that student non-drinkers and light drinkers worried about fitting in with others, especially in social situations with a pressure to drink. The main coping strategy for these students was to create social groups at university of other non-or light drinkers.

This idea of a social fault line caused by alcohol among university students is echoed in Cork and St Andrews universities who have addressed the needs of their non-drinking students by creating alcohol free halls of residence. In 2012, London Met University also considered banning the sale of alcohol in certain ‘alcohol free’ areas of the campus.

There is no current research data to compare to student life in 2016 and alcohol is still the chosen social lubricant for many during fresher’s week and student life in general. However data from the office of national statistics in 2013 shows that alcohol abstinence has leaped by 40% in young people over that last 8 years in the UK.

Whilst it is hard to say exactly why young people are drinking less technology and an increased interest in health among young people is just part of it. Increases in diversity means a rise of people in the UK not drinking for religious and cultural reasons. The cost of drinking alcohol has also risen and this teamed with the rise of tuition fees may make drinking too costly.

Regardless of the reasons that young people are drinking less; health, technology, religion, culture, or finances, it has a noticeable impact on student culture and hopefully will create a shift in the psychology of young people being more open to non-drinkers.

If you are worried about your or a friends use of alcohol, are feeling pressurised into drinking by others or wish to seek advice please contact us at [email protected]