One in five students considered heavy drinkers

By Ingrid Godager

“I’ll take nine shooters with fireball”, Rachel (23) yells at the bartender, as she fumbles in her black snake printed purse to find her credit card. She’s at Coco’s outback with her friends from school, as she has been every Wednesday since she moved to Amsterdam. “That’ll be ten euro”, the bartender yells back at her, trying to outshout Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina roaring through the speakers. Rachel beeps her card, and the screen turns green. Accepted. A smile of relief shows on Rachel’s face, and she whispers to herself: “Thank God”. The bartender hands over nine test tubes filled with transparent yellow liquid. As Rachel walks up to her table, she’s greeted with bunch of hands. One hand on each test tube, and five seconds later their all empty.

Rachel and her friends are all international students at the University of Amsterdam. “We’re here to study, but we don’t really study”, Rachel says and starts to laugh. One of Rachel’s classmates, Mona (21), adds: “I mean, I got school tomorrow. But I’m not going to be at school tomorrow”. The conversation goes on, and the girls start to discuss how much they’ve had to drink this evening. Mona looks down at her hands, holding up seven fingers. She puts her forefinger down, concentrating on counting the drinks she’s had. “Three beers, two glasses of wine, one shot…”, she says with a confused frown. She then puts her forefinger back up: “I forgot the shot. Seven it is then”.

Statistics show that one out of five students is considered to be excessive drinkers. This was revealed in a study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction in 2015. An “excessive drinker” is defined as a person who consumes more than a certain number of glasses of alcohol per week; usually 14 glasses for women and 21 glasses for men. Heavy drinking is most common among young adults up to 30 years, and the most excessive drinkers can be found among university students.

Alcohol use is one of the most important risk factors for disease and death worldwide. Yet almost 7 out of 10 people between 12 and 25 years who sometimes drink alcohol don’t find their own alcohol consumption harmful to their health. This is more than half of the young people who drink heavily.

Next round is on Mona. “Kontiki sours this time?” she asks. “Definitely”, Rachel replies. All the girls are chatting and laughing, except one. This girl is sitting on the edge of the bench, staring out in the open air. Her name is Julia (23). Her face looks as pale as paper. She closes her eyes, and leans backwards. She takes a deep breath, keeps the air in for a few seconds, and lets the air out again. She breathes in, she breathes out. Her eyes open, looking down at her shaking hands. Suddenly she stands up, and moves her feet quickly towards the stairs. As she’s making her way through the sweaty crowd covering the dance floor, she puts both hands in front of her mouth. “This is not happening”, Rachel says and runs after her. She pushes Julia out of the crowd, directing her towards the toilets upstairs. One foot in front of the other, Julia’s trying to make her way upstairs. Drops of sweats are starting to run down Julia’s forehead. Her cheeks are filling, and she makes a grin. Leaning her head back, looking at the ceiling with watery eyes, she swallows.

Finally the two girls reach the bathroom. Julia throws herself into one of the toilet stalls. Rachel stands outside with her hands covering her ears. The smell spreads throughout the room. The smell of yesterdays digested tacos and spilt beer. Rachel purges, and moves one hand to keep her nose closed. The toilet flushes and Julia comes out. Her mascara is running down her cheeks, and she’s wiping her mouth. “So I guess you’re not going to class tomorrow morning either?” Rachel laughs. “I guess not”, Julia replies.