Risks of binge drinking among students, especially during initiation ceremonies, made headlines this year when new guidance was issued in response to the death of Ed Farmer.

Ed died in 2016 in the first term at Newcastle University after attending a booze-fuelled initiation ceremony.

His death prompted collaborative guidance being issued by Newcastle University and Universities UK to raise awareness of the risks of excessive alcohol consumption and to discourage harmful practices at initiation ceremonies.

Heavy drinking sessions, wild nights and dabbling in substances may seem like a legitimate part of the university experience to some, but as the tragedy of Ed Farmer showed it can bring potentially fatal consequences.

Students keen to keep themselves or friends safe or parents worried for their children can benefit from some basic prevention tips.

1. Get educated

Students can protect themselves by being wise to the realities of drugs, alcohol and substances — both prescribed and illicit. Use of prescription drugs has been reported among students keen to remain alert to study.


Rather than taking for granted the opinions of directives or friends, family or universities, being independently informed empowers people to make their own choices.

The website Frank offers advice and information on drugs and alcohol without preaching.

Healthtalk.org includes personal accounts from young people about their drug and alcohol experiences.

2. Understand the root of substance abuse

Substance abuse can mean one-off binge drinking or drug use to a harmful level, or longer-term repeated behaviours.

University is the perfect place for someone who is struggling with addiction or dependency to hide from themselves and others. It’s easy to develop and embrace the label of ‘party person’, when really alcohol or substances are being used as a prop to avoid other issues.

In the vast majority of cases, people who abuse alcohol or substances do so to escape other underlying issues, perhaps in relation to low self-esteem, depression or past trauma.

Whilst substance abuse may be integral to some stories of fun and adventure, it can lead to the depths of despair, regret and disaster.

3. Adopt healthy habits

Unless you’d prefer to, it’s not necessary to avoid alcohol altogether, but beware if you’re turning to it for reasons other than pleasure.

Forming habits of leaning on alcohol or substances to bolster confidence, improve your mood or escape from stress and problems are potentially harmful habits.

Finding other means of coping with these issues and looking after your wellbeing make for a more positive experience of university and life.

Music, sport, relaxation, yoga, mindfulness techniques, exercise and speaking to friends or family are other ways to release tension and improve your mood.

4. Don’t be afraid to talk

Anyone who is worried about their alcohol or drug use or that of someone else should not feel concerned about reaching out for support.

There are organisations offering confidential advice around addiction and addiction treatment services.

Whilst illicit drug use and possession is illegal, it’s worth remembering that it would be very rare for someone who is asking for help to be prosecuted. Some police forces are now even reportedly adopting policies of offering some people found in possession of drugs for personal use the opportunity of treatment and education rather than prosecution. Supply of drugs, which includes giving them to friends, is a serious offence that carries heavy penalties.

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