For all the billing of parties being a foolproof source of enjoyment, there are some unsettling prerequisites that you are supposed to comply with. There’s a pressure to not just ‘be’, but to be interesting and not simply stand with your back against the wall, drifting away into obscurity. ‘Just being yourself’ doesn’t afford any reassurance to anyone experiencing any social anxiety, who feels inadequate in their ability to exemplify such abstract qualities.
For me, and a lot of people my age, the main solution for this anxiety was alcohol. The hidden harm of alcohol-based peer pressure is not the encouragement of doing something dangerous for approval; it’s the subtle, creeping indoctrination that having a good time and alcohol are not mutually exclusive. It has meant that I used to make sure I was sufficiently tipsy enough before introducing myself to new people, or that if I was ever unhappy or not enjoying myself, act on the advice I was often given, such as, “Have a few drinks, you’ll feel better about it.”
Knowing your limit isn’t just about exceeding a dangerous volume of consumption. It’s moderating the role that alcohol places in your life. Far too often, the effects of alcohol rears its ugly head when we are feeling uncertain or emotional, when a more sober response to the teenage angst that we have all experienced at some point may have been more productive. Normalising alcohol as both an essential potion to bring out the best version of yourself, as well as the most effective remedy for numbing lingering pain, is as toxic as its internal, corrosive damage. It conjures up the illusion that you are the problem that needs modifying, not the alcohol affecting your behaviour.
This isn’t a demonisation of alcohol at all. In fact, it can be a wonder drug of sorts. It has been a catalyst for reckless liberation and firmly founded itself in our culture. We’re often called the generation that is ‘boring and sexless’, when it’s reported that greater numbers of students are sidelining this wonder drug in their freshers’ week, in direct opposition to Britain’s binge drinking spirit. But culture is supposed to be malleable, and we should be able to look at our entrenched traditions and question their purpose. Alcohol, like many things, such as money or power, isn’t inherently bad – it’s our relationship with these things that can have a destructive impact on our lives if they are not properly addressed.
Healthier relationships develop through exposure and maturity, and I, and many of my friends, have concluded that alcohol doesn’t need to play such a central role in our lives anymore. We are navigating our angst through different avenues.