Meg McManus


Is gaining a gold medal for heavy weight drinking a win after all? Meg McManus discusses the Olympics of a night out.

In Britain, especially in Scotland, we are known for our heavy alcohol drinking habits. Despite the obvious dangers of being blackout drunk, I think the occasional “big” night out is strangely endearing. 

Recently, I was at a pub with my German friends. I was chatting with my friend about our preferred drinks choices at the bar while waiting to be served. She told me a story about a time when she was out with her friends, where she drank two cocktails and her head was spinning. This experience, she said, had put her off ever drinking more than one drink ever again. I was surprised. She got me thinking, why is being “steaming” in many other countries an accident, while in Scotland it is often an aim?

When I’m on a night out with my friends, there is always a silent agreement that we’re getting drunk. One night, after an already extremely heavy pre-drinking session, we went to Bamboo. As usual, we would fill empty water bottles with a strong mix of vodka and juice “for the road”. Then, in the club my friend sunk 20 gins with ease, leading to his nickname “20-gins-Danny”. We found this funny but not all that shocking.

What people tend to find more surprising are those who drink very little, or are abstinent. They’re a particularly rare species in Scotland. They get pestered and constantly questioned, and it’s usually assumed that they’re religious, recovering alcoholics, or on medication before people would think it may just be personal preference.

The Scottish Health Survey 2019 found that a staggering quarter of Scots regularly drink at hazardous levels. I think this can be partially explained by firstly looking at circles of young people who have recently reached the legal drinking age. Of course, many people drink in their younger teens, but this is usually hidden away in house parties or parks. Higher education seems to give a green light to drinking culture in the mainstream, and universities can seem to actively encourage it. Freedom from the structures of home paired with a new city filled with pubs and clubs accelerates alcohol consumption. Pre-drinks before going out to drink more are standard. Universities often turn drinking into an “Olympic sport", as many games are passed down through students. The general aims of these games are to have a laugh and get as drunk as physically possible without blacking out.

Blacking out, when large parts of your night are completely eradicated from your memory, is commonplace. You feel like you’ve teleported, as your memory ends in one location and returns in another. My German friends had never heard of a blackout, and the idea terrified them. The next morning, being curled up in bed with “the fear”, a crippling anxiety about not remembering the stupid things you said and did while drunk, is another part of the experience.  

Despite the obvious downsides to our excessive drinking culture, I think it’s definitely not all bad. Students and young people receive plenty of criticism in the media and from older people for getting drunk, yet people rarely look deeper into why they do it. “Big” nights out can help to provide an escape from the stress of studying and the pressure of modern life. I don’t endorse using alcohol as a coping mechanism, I just mean that sometimes all we want is to be daft and dance with friends, which can be enhanced by drinking.

Being drunk just makes everything much more fun. The experiences I’ve had, whether dancing in The Garage with Ford Kiernan, joining raves in the streets of Glasgow, or going for a dip in Kelvingrove Park fountain, just wouldn’t have been the same or even happened without drinking a lot. My German friends don’t have half as many hilarious drunk stories to tell. There’s something about letting your guard down on a night out that brings us closer together. It’s strangely liberating. We are more open and emotional. Our existing friendships grow stronger, and brand new ones are easily formed. 

“The fear” when you wake up next to your friends soon subsides as you can laugh together about the night before. It’s good to be aware of the dangers of heavy drinking on a night out, but these dangers are definitely reduced when you’ve got your friends around you. We may drink a lot, but we look after each other. Scotland just wouldn’t be the same without the “Olympics” of the night out.

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