Student drug culture isn’t the end of the world

Common student drug use is not about the minority of students for whom drugs become an issue.

COMMENTOne of my residing memories from last year posed quite a juxtaposition, and stuck with me. I pushed open a bathroom stall in a club to find a girl licking the back of her student card. Nice one. Little over half an hour later, I overheard another girl answer the wide-eyed question, “You looking for anything?”, with, “Yeah, my friends!”

I have yet to read or hear how “student drug culture” is to be formally classified. Which drugs does it include? What does it really mean? We hear about it so often, but we may all have a different idea about what the term encompasses. I have developed a feeling of indifference to the former of the two events from that evening. That night didn’t faze me. By the beginning of my first Hilary term, I was numb to the recreational drug use I witnessed on nights out. It had become a norm.

I’m going to talk only from personal experience, and about how I see things. For me, common “student drug culture” is mostly about an “alternative” nightlife culture – “common” being the operative word. It’s about party drugs: pills, MDMA, ketamine, cocaine. It reminds me of the story of the Pied Piper. This alternative nightlife acts as such, willing more to conscription by the week. By the end of a fresher’s second semester, there’s a good chance they’ll have heard the Pied Piper’s tune at least once.

A large part of the culture is the indifference I witness many others having towards drug use among themselves and their peers. I have yet to decide how I feel about that. Common student drug culture is not about the minority of students for whom drugs become an issue. It is not about the unfortunate happenings caused by drugs.

Those cases are rarities, and are not what I, nor my peers witness most frequently.  In fact, I would worry much more about a friend who drank extremely heavily more than twice a week, than a friend who dropped a pill once a fortnight. I think that’s fair.

For most, drugs don’t characterise every night out. As said, it’s an alternative. After a while, getting locked in Dicey’s every Monday gets a bit boring. Alternative nightlife is the pool they can stick their feet in, to cool down before returning to the sweaty, dizzy smoking areas of mainstream clubs. They “dabble” in it. It is largely confined to certain nightlife and music scenes, and particular nights out.

I would argue that the majority of those who use recreational drugs don’t even do it once a week, once a fortnight, or once a month. It is occasional, but because every night there will be students whose occasional night it is, drug use appears regular. One could say it is regular on a collective level, yet irregular on a personal level.

Mainstream media seems to believe that once a young person gives drugs a go, that that’s it. From then forward, they’ll be out of pocket and dependant on more every time they go out, or even every day. It believes that no one has a clue what they’re taking, and none of them have any idea about the implications it may have. This is evident in their coverage of the few cases when the recreational drug use of students leads to extraordinarily unfortunate circumstances. Those stories have become the face of this culture.

I understand this to be the use of scare tactics to discourage drug users, or drug “dabblers”. I frown when I see people trying to combat drugs on these grounds, because I feel they have no chance.  The local scare in The Twisted Pepper before the summer put pill-popping at a standstill with many for a while. That said, by the end of the summer they were back at it in a field in Stradbally. Student drug culture will be almost impossible to eradicate. It is enjoyed by too many. It came, settled, and propagated.

For this reason, how many view student drug culture needs to change. It needs to move away from it being viewed as a terrifying entity out to get us all. People need to accept that it is alive and somewhat rampant, but that it needs to be controlled, not destroyed.

This change has begun, but it has yet to be completed. The emergence of “safe drug use” workshops is possibly one of the most radical and intelligent movements in student life in a while. Testing kits sold at festivals were indicative of how prolific drug use has become, but exemplified a change in attitude and an increase in safety awareness. For most students, it is not a matter of addiction, but choice. They like the buzz it gives them, and has become an alternative to alcohol. They like to know what they’re taking and understand when it is appropriate.

For me, student drug culture is only an issue when those involved in it are careless and uneducated. I don’t believe that student drug culture is due to move away from nightlife and begin negatively impinging on the daily lives of most students. That fear is not there. I would consider students for whom drugs are frequent and central in their lives, to be part of a different culture. I might call it the uncommon student drug culture.

As long as the people who take part in drug culture are not abusing drugs, I don’t really think it’s the end of the world. I know students who use recreational drugs, yet managed to achieve top marks in their exams last year. I know students who, after an “alternative” night out, can get up and go to the 9am lecture. I respect equally those who do and don’t try drugs. I don’t fear that the lives of those who do will change for the worse.

I think that night out I mentioned at the beginning describes the common student drug culture quite perfectly. Yeah, it’s here, but it’s not inescapable. I don’t think drugs are good idea, but I don’t view the way they are commonly being used by those around me as particularly bad, either.