For several years, the College has operated a policy regarding the use of illegal drugs; more recently, it has come to be recognised that the abuse of alcohol, a legal drug, is a growing social problem and one which is of particular concern amongst younger age groups (although not only there). This document, originally drafted by the Senior Tutor, but incorporating suggestions from the Tutors' Committee, the Dean, the Junior Members on the College Consultative Committee, and the Governing Body, is intended to advise all College members of the potential dangers of the abuse of alcohol, to establish some sensible guidelines for its proper use, and to encourage both a culture of self-regulation and a respect for others and oneself.
Alcohol has been used since ancient times as an ingredient and lubricant in social occasions. A depressant drug, it slows down brain function and hence the body’s reactions. Effects begin within a few minutes of consumption and can last for some hours, depending on several factors, including quantity consumed and body weight and tolerance of the user. Most drinkers feel relaxed and less inhibited after 3-4 units (a unit is about half-a-pint of beer or a glass of wine), becoming more talkative and with an enhanced sense of well-being. After 8 units or more, physical and mental function is significantly reduced and coordination (of speech and movement) impaired.
Recommended maximum weekly levels of consumption are approximately 21 units for women, 28 for men. These do not, however, take into account variations in metabolism and they are based on continuous moderate consumption rather than downing all the units in one or two nights. The key question for a drinker is to ensure that s/he remains in control of both him/herself and the social situation.
Drinking more than 8 units at once may lead to distorted vision, loss of balance, vomiting and unconsciousness. Very high doses consumed rapidly have been fatal, as has the combination of vomiting with unconsciousness. Excessive consumption can lead to anti-social conduct, aggression, intimidation or violence. Over a quarter of sexual offences are committed by those under the influence, as are the majority of violent offences outside the home. It can also lead to an inability to defend oneself mentally or physically against sexual or other aggression. Alcohol is the single most important factor contributing to physical accidents and injuries in the UK. Each year alcohol is directly implicated in 1000 road deaths and 20000 traffic injuries.
The user is most at risk from serious health damage after substantial tolerance has been built up. Heavy drinking over the longer term is linked to liver damage, heart disease, brain damage, some cancers and several other disorders of the reproductive system and sexual organs. According to the the National Statistics in Psychiatric Morbidity Among Adults 2000 Survey, the prevalence of hazardous drinking in the 16-24 age bracket exceeds 50% in men and stands at 30% in women; this is the highest prevalence for any age group and five times higher than the corresponding figure for cannabis dependence.
In the local context it is worth referring to two particular statistics. In 1998, on 'Suicide Sunday', all of Addenbrooke's ambulances were simultaneously in use transporting students with alcohol poisoning. In the last eighteen months, at least four UK students have died as a direct result of excessive alcohol consumption.
In the social life of all students, alcohol plays a part; at some times (Freshers' Week, May week) it may be so prevalent as to imply that excessive drinking and having a good time are indivisible. A strong emphasis on alcohol is insensitive to students whose cultures do not endorse the use of alcohol, or simply to all those who choose not to use it.
'Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used [Shakespeare]'.
The College should aim to encourage students who choose to use alcohol to use it well, not to abuse it. Students who do not use it should always be provided with good-quality non-alcoholic alternatives at all College functions. It is both foolish and dangerous for anyone to encourage others to drink more than they ought or than they might wish to by enforced participation in competitive drinking games.
Those responsible for organising official College functions [including parties held by Fellows] should ensure that excessive quantities of alcohol are not made available to guests and that only sensible drinking takes place at them.
Functions organised by the MCR and JCR, by College Clubs and Societies, should observe the same restraint. In particular, it is inappropriate for neat spirits and strong spirit-based cocktails or punches to be served at Squashes, Dinners or other social events, particularly in Freshers' week. The JCR should consider carefully whether it is right to encourage Bar promotions involving neat spirits or alcopops. The National Union of Students runs an alcohol awareness campaign, providing sensible and helpful advice.
The College Hall Staff have a responsibility to ensure that Dinner in Hall is a civilised experience for all present. Diners drinking to excess should be asked to exercise restraint; if they refuse, they will be required to leave.
The College Bar Staff have a responsibility to ensure (as would any licensee) that College members and their guests do not drink to dangerous excess; those in such condition should be refused further service and (if necessary) required to leave.
As a drunken person's behaviour may be erratic, sometimes abusive, and often unpredictable, many feel discomforted or threatened in such company. A drunken person will be considered to be in breach of good order and discipline.
Drunkenness is not a defence; it cannot be regarded as a mitigating circumstance in any matter concerning a breach of good order and discipline. Anybody who causes damage to property not his or her own, or who harms another person, or who disturbs the peace, or who requires the involvement of the emergency services, because of alcohol consumption, will be considered to be in breach of good order and discipline.
Anybody who encourages another to consume alcohol to the point of drunkenness or beyond shall be considered to be in breach of good order and discipline. The offence will be considered aggravated if there is an element of intimidation or bullying, e.g. the person being encouraged to consume alcohol has indicated his/her reluctance to do so.
Most of us enjoy a drink; but alcohol is a drug with (if taken in excess) some very unpleasant side-effects for both the user and others. We should like to see in College a culture where moderate consumption is accepted as a normal part of many peoples lives, but in which unreasonably excessive drinking is recognised as both a danger to health and an affront to civilized conduct.
Further advice and help can be sought from the Cambridge Drug and Alcohol Service (01223 723023).
With acknowledgment to UK Alcohol Alert and the CUSU Welfare Handbook.