A lot of students at University drink alcohol and for many this social activity doesn’t cause any significant problems, apart from the obvious damage to their student loans. It is important to remember though, that alcohol does affect us, and these affects are not always obvious.

If you walk around Cardiff at night, you often see people doing things that they definitely wouldn’t be doing if they were sober. Sometimes, these behaviours are embarrassing, put them at risk of harm or could get them into trouble.

Alcohol Units and ABV Explained

The alcohol unit system was introduced in 1987 to help people keep track of how much they were drinking, and helps people to understand the amount of alcohol within their drink.

A unit is a measure of how much alcohol is within a drink, and therefore is very different to the ABV (alcohol by volume) %. One Unit = 10ml or ~8g of pure alcohol:

  • A 175ml glass of wine has an ABV of 12%. This is 2.1 Units.
  • A pint (568ml) of beer as a ABV of 4%. This is 2.3 Units

You can easily work this out:

  • (Volume) x (%) / 1000 = Units. 
  • For example; (175 x 12) / 1000 = 2.1 Units

How much is a safe amount of alcohol to drink?

This is a difficult question to answer as it depends on a variety of factors. It is also important to consider what the long term and short term risks of drinking alcohol are. The NHS recommend that people (both men and women) do not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. This is equivalent to 6 pints of beer or 10 small glasses of wine.

Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short space of time is called binge drinking. This is drinking more than 6 Units of alcohol for women or 8 units for men in a short space of time, or drinking to get drunk.

Binge Drinking

Alcohol changes the way that humans process information and behave, it can lower people’s inhibitions and can make them feel good. This also makes people more likely to take risks, and this is particularly true when binge drinking.

Risks that students may take include activities such as:

  • Walking off on their own / walking home on their own 
  • Swimming 
  • Crossing dangerous roads or train tracks, or climbing structures
  • Criminal activity, such as stealing 
  • Fighting 
  • Risky sexual activity, such as unprotected sex
  • Taking drugs or continuing to drink excessively 

Binge drinking can also have very damaging affects to your mental health.

Every year in Student Advice we speak to students who face criminal charges, get in trouble with the University, or who are the victims of crime, in situations where alcohol is involved. Many hospital admissions are related to the damaging effects of alcohol.

Drinking in University Societies and Sports Clubs

It is important to be mindful that a lot of students can’t drink alcohol for medical or cultural reasons or because of they have religious beliefs. For those unable to drink for medical reasons, it may be that drinking any amount will have very serious implications.

Students may also be nervous attending society events for the first time and can be intimidated by the behaviour of other students. This can lead to them intentionally, or being easily encouraged, to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

The most important thing society leaders and committee members can do is to look after each other and encourage participants to drink and to behave in a safe and responsible way. Very sadly, there have been instances at Universities of students being forced, or encouraged to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. This has resulted in serious incidents and deaths.

Universities UK (UUK), in collaboration with Newcastle University, launched a briefing in September, 2019, Initiations at UK universities, to raise awareness of the dangers of initiations and excessive alcohol consumption among students.

This briefing is a response to the tragic death of Newcastle University student Ed Farmer who died following an initiation event. At the inquest in October 2018, the coroner concluded there was a risk of future deaths occurring because students were “unaware of the risks of consuming large quantities of alcohol over a short period of time.”

What can you do to keep yourself and others safe?

Your behaviour can influence how other people around you behave, and this is true around alcohol. By keeping yourself safe and in control, you can help other people to be safe and in control too: 

  • Eat first. Drinking on an empty stomach means that more of the alcohol will get into your blood in a shorter time. This can make you very drunk, very quickly and can make you ill.
  • If you are in a nightclub, suggest a round of water and go and get this for you and your friend(s).
  • Try and avoid buying rounds of alcoholic drinks. This encourages you and others to drink alcohol when you might be drinking water, or taking a break.
  • Do not buy drinks for someone who is drunk.
  • Don’t be afraid to suggest a non-alcoholic activity.
  • Try and avoid sexual activity with anyone when you have been drinking.
  • If you notice a friend is drinking more regularly or you have concerns about their drinking, trust your instincts and open a dialogue with them.
  • Limit the amount of money that you spend on a night out.
  • Do not be afraid to say no to a night out. Saying “no, to a night out”, is saying “yes, to yourself”.
  • Know your limits and do not try to push them.
  • Know where you can get support and advice. 

Problem Drinking

If alcohol consumption is causing affects to your health, relationships, work, or education, it is a sign that something is not right. If you are struggling to stop drinking once you have started, if you are drinking regularly and struggling to cut down, or you feel like you need to drink alcohol, then we strongly urge you to get some help. Alcoholics Anonymous suggest that if you answer yes to any one of the following questions, you may need to seriously think about your relationship with alcohol:

  • Do you drink because you have problems? To face up to stressful situations?
  • Do you drink when you get mad at other people, your friends or parents?
  • Do you often prefer to drink alone, rather than with others?
  • Are you starting to get low marks? Are you skiving off work?
  • Do you ever try to stop or drink less - and fail?
  • Have you begun to drink in the morning, before school or work?
  • Do you gulp your drinks as if to satisfy a great thirst?
  • Do you ever have loss of memory due to your drinking?
  • Do you avoid being honest with others about your drinking?
  • Do you ever get into trouble when you are drinking?
  • Do you often get drunk when you drink, even when you do not mean to?
  • Do you think you're big to be able to hold your drink?

It can be very difficult to make the first steps when drinking becomes problematic, but it is important to tackle the issue as early on as you can. You may feel that you can talk to a trusted friend or relative, but, if this does not help in tackling the issue, you should also seek professional help and support.

Professional help

If you feel that alcohol is becoming a problem, consider seeking professional support. If you think you have an alcohol addiction, seeking professional support is an important first step.

It can be useful to visit your GP in the first instance. They will want to assess your physical health as well as your mental health and will be able to recommend and refer to specialist services if appropriate. You may also wish to contact one of the below services:

  • Taith is a free and confidential drug and alcohol service for adults in Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan. They offer a range of opportunities from workshops, brief interventions, structured groups and one-to-one key working sessions.
  • Alcohol Concern has an online audit tool which allows you to self-assess your drinking.
  • Drink Aware provide an online chat service called DrinkChat run by trained advisors who can give you confidential advice about alcohol.
  • Entry into Drug and Alcohol Services (E-DAS) is a single point of entry for anyone who feels that they have an issue with any substance in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. EDAS staff will provide you with a free and confidential appointment to explore your options.
  • Port of Call can provide impartial guidance to help you, or a loved, one find appropriate treatment and support for addiction. Whether it’s booking into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation clinic or arranging addiction counselling, Port of Call can give information about a wide range of treatment options available to you in Cardiff.
  • Recovery Cymru is a peer-led, peer-support, recovery community that empowers people to achieve and maintain recovery from drug and/or alcohol misuse while supporting others to do the same.

You can also look at; 

  • Alcoholics Anonymous A fellowship made up of members who used to drink to excess and now support each other to get and stay sober.
  • We are With You A charity providing free, confidential support to people experiencing issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health.
  • Talk to Frank

Being alcohol-free at university

Whether it be for religious reasons, money, health issues, or you simply don’t want to, there can be many reasons why people choose not to drink alcohol at university. We have compiled a few tips on how to manage university alcohol-free.

Be yourself

Don’t feel the need to justify your sobriety to others. It is your choice and others shouldn’t make you feel like you have to be drinking – after all, that is not what university is about! Although people may ask questions at first, they will respect you for being yourself and invite you out because they enjoy your company.

Be sociable

Being sober does not mean being anti-social. Make sure you still make the effort to socialise with friends. Even if you are not going out for the night, you can still sit with your friends during pre-drinks and if they are playing drinking games, just do an alternative forfeit!

Try something different

There is more to university than drinking. Check out societies and groups that you can be part of throughout your time in Cardiff. Encourage your friends to ditch a night on the tiles to visit some Cardiff attractions or other types of nightlife.

Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410