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EUC and drinking culture

A beer after class, a glass of wine at dinner, a cocktail at a club, shots before a party. Alcohol is everywhere. In every country and region, there is a different social climate surrounding alcohol, a factor that can be described on the basis of views on drinking, conceptions of alcohol-related problems, and the definition of appropriate measures for dealing with them. All of these are influenced by cultural norms, practices and traditions.

EUC prides itself on having students of more than 100 different nationalities, aiming at a ratio of 50/50, meaning half have at least some Dutch background, and half are international. This is great for the diversity of our university, but how does it play into the social life of students? Is there truly a climate of acceptance, integration and respect for different heritages and customs? In regards to alcohol, how does Dutch drinking culture play into our social spaces? Through an anonymous survey, 160 of you helped us formulate a response to this question.

It’s no great revelation that alcohol is a well-integrated element in Dutch society; any night out in the city will guarantee a sighting of tipsy Rotterdam residents. In fact, from the 60s to the 80s, Rotterdam witnessed a steep increase in alcohol consumption per capita, running parallel with a greater social acceptability of intoxication in general, especially within party scenes. However, this general climate of tolerance changed in the 90s when excessive drinking was more widely denounced in the public.

Recent 2020 studies by the Dutch State found that in an age group of 16-35, 98% had consumed alcohol in the past year, with 82% doing so on a weekly basis. Based on our survey, this trend is similar in the EUC community, with approximately 26% reporting drinking less than weekly, 42% once or twice a week, and 8% more than four times a week.

A recurring question concerns the average amount of drinking and the phenomenon of binge drinking. The most recent average is 13 glasses when going out and only 3 when staying in. However, it is difficult to find a coherent answer as the research on the topic is extremely broad and contradictory. What is categorized as heavy drinking or binge drinking? When is it labelled as problematic or an addiction? How are differentiations made between genders? Some institutes regard 21 glasses a week for men and 14 for women to be borderline excessive. 50 glasses a week for men and 35 for women, is labelled as extreme. But, again, some put the limit at more, some at less.

In any case, exact estimates are not the primary concern. What is fundamental is how alcohol plays into the larger sociocultural environment, and how determinant it is in one's experience of student life. Moderate alcohol use can also have significant positive effects, in fact, it has been related to students being less lonely, having more self-confidence, and being happier with their lives. Moderate drinking has been shown to improve cholesterol levels, prevent kidney stones, and even boost your libido.

The effects of alcohol can be both positive and negative. How is it celebrated in society, yet hated at the same time? Wherein lies the difference?

On this issue, many researchers agree that the motivation behind one's drinking is a key factor. The four most agreed-upon categories are 1) social, 2) enhancement, 3) coping, 4) conformity. The first two have been found to be correlated to more positive outcomes, as they are linked to the desire for positive, external, social outcomes (it improves a party or celebration, it's festive and fun, it makes you feel good, etc.). Conversely, the latter two are most often linked to negative outcomes as the incentive is a more internally directed pharmacological effect (you want to forget about your problems, fear of being left out, etc.).

This is where the more uncomfortable issue of peer pressure comes into play. 33% of students reported feeling, at one time or another, pressured into drinking or taking recreational drugs, that is no small number. When further asked what had led to this, many answers overlapped. Common anecdotes included: fear of not being fun or relatable enough, drinking game environment where chugging is kind of a must, being called boring, cheap or lame, it’s part of the culture, events simply revolve around drinking, FOMO, being around drunk people while being sober sucks. Interestingly enough, most people reported not feeling active peer pressure, but a more subtle implicit expectation.

The feeling of belonging is embedded into the social context and pressures to perform in these on a more subconscious level. This is particularly relevant when alcohol consumption escalates throughout the night.

A particularly interesting answer that seems to arise frequently is that people drink just because there isn’t much else to do, with limited choices sometimes. Some even argue it would be a refreshing change to go out for a cup of tea or hot chocolate every once in a while, especially when you consider that 32% of people in the questionnaire answered that they had even avoided going to events due to the fact that alcohol or drugs were being consumed.

‘Students are not likely to identify excessive alcohol use as a problem they suffer from’, says student doctor Peter Vonk. Interestingly enough, 37% of the people that answered the survey claimed to have questioned their relationship with alcohol or recreational drugs at some point.

A professor at UVA, when commenting on their new policy regarding alcohol posited that: “In a few years’ time, we will look back on how common alcoholic drinks are at university events with the same confusion as we now look back on the tumblers filled with cigarettes that were provided for guests at events in the 1970s”. Alcohol may see a similar pattern to cigarettes in the development of cultural views. Do we think this will ever happen? Do we want to aim for this?

The real question is, should alcohol be blamed and regulated more? Does it stimulate bonding and social encounters or does it actually discriminate and exclude? Should we change its pervasiveness in social settings and our lives, or do we consider "problematic" alcohol consumption only as the symptom of a deeper underlying issue of loneliness, anxiety and depression?

To share your thoughts on this topic, be sure to comment on this post! W&J Co invites you to share your thoughts at our upcoming collaboration with Debate Co at EUC on 6th December.

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