THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
return to report contents
return to Imaginative Spaces home
return to Enquiry Learning Unit
PROFILE NUMBER 5
John is 18. He is doing A levels and plans to go to university. He lives in the large suburb of H.
His father enjoys a drink every now and then. After a hard day at work he'll come back and have a short or something, ginger ale, or sherry or brandy. Mother is nearly a teetotaller, one glass of wine of a Sunday lunchtime "and she's gone". "She can't take it really. She just flakes out". They tend to take an advisory role with their children in relation to such matters as drinking. They say "I've been drunk before and it isn't very pleasant, it's a stupid thing, to wake up with a hangover etc" They say "if you want a drink go ahead. Find out how bad it is, which I have really. I wouldn't want to do it too often".
Parents, John says, can't really check up on drinking. So his don't make unenforceable bans and the do not demand a particular time in the evening when John should be back. They leave it open to negotiation. Although they would get angry if he came back "about 4 o'clock in the morning". They would want to know where he'd been and what he'd been doing. Generally John encounters alcohol in discos and parties "I don't go into pubs that often" he says.
Although he has an older sister who is 22 and an older brother of 19 they were, he says, "quiet to say the least". They didn't go out too much. His sister started to go out to nightclubs and pubs when she was in the 6th form. She made friends with people at her job at ASDA and Sedgewicks. She started going out with them. Also she had money. The brother has only now started to go out at the age of 19 "so I didn't have the influence to sort of go out at an early age, so I only started to go out when I was 16 ... started going out to nightclubs, parties etc. In that respect I was held back in the aspect of going out". He thinks that's about right. He doesn't think his parents would have been "too chuffed" if he was going out at the age of 14 "and came back home at 2.00 in the morning". He also thinks that it would have spoilt his "working" which at that age, he says, is "quite important": "Too see how the rest of your working goes off, like being put in a bad group, or people saying "he's a waster", or he's good, you want to get attention to him".
His first encounters with alcohol occured at home. "I think it starts way back, when I was about five or seven. With the old Sunday lunch. Bottle of wine on the table. Your glass, over there. Dad would pour it out and you would also get a glass. A little drop in there, they'd water it down or something. At the moment my baby sister's two and she has been having the odd one on Sunday, she goes "Wine, I want wine" and all this, and I say "I got "Wine" and she sort of drinks it down. She likes it. But I think she got plastered once". He laughs. "She had about a centimetre of it and drank it all in one go. I started way back then, occasionally. Then, the first time I got really merry was at my mother's birthday party. We had a barbecue etc. We had all these cans of lager around in the cooler, so I had about four of five of them and I just sort of sat there and filled up with gas and feeling sick and everyone else was going "enjoying a laugh are you? " ... I was just sitting there keeping still. My vision was going and the gas just make me feel ... if I move I'm going to throw up. So I just sat there for an hour or so". People saw him, including his mum but "they were all gone as well". He was 14 at the time. He also remembers "that glass of sherry routine" he says. He was visiting his aunts one christmas, when he was about 11 or 12, and "there was sherry in the glasses and we were just knocking them back. By the time we got out we could feel the effect, we were sort of staggering around, and had a headache growing in your head. That was probably the first time I really had any quantity in one go. I felt the effects".
He describes the development of drinking amongst his peers "At first everyone thinks it's some sort of contraband; they think"Ooh, it's a Bottle of Cider, here" and you sort of sneak around saying I've got all this stuff. It's banned, it's banned, it's taboo, etc, and then we went on a school trip and everyone is sort of smuggling in bottles of cider and all this thing. That's how it started and then once you get a taste to it, you progress onto, well, "Do I look old enough to get into a pub etc?" or you go down to the local little shops and buy something. Progressing from there, as soon as you're having a good time, you know, and you're getting drunk, and doing silly things and laughing; it's good times, so you think "if I have a drink, I'll have a good time".
If he has a drink it would normally be in the context of weekend socialising. Altough recently this has become "sometimes awkward" for John. He works all day on Saturday, for up to 13 hours at a time. If he goes out on Friday night "I'm no way going to get up Saturday morning and that's 6 o'clock or whatever". He tries to avoid it. But if it's a really good party that he wants to go to, then "I'll call in sick or something".
Drink is very much the norm among young people when going out, according to John; "Most people who got to R - (Disco/nighclub) if they're not driving, they'll go there and they won't have an orange juice, they'll have a pint or a short or something. I just think it's expected of them to have a drink when they're at a nightclub. It adds to their enjoyment". This was certainly what John believed until about six months ago when he learnt to drive and discovered it was possible to enjoy himself socially without drinking.
At the time he was working at ASDA. He recalls going to an ASDA party and drinking "about 5 pints in 2 hours". After that felt "sort of sick" and was staggering around. Then had a pint to last him the two and a half hours before he went home and in the morning "I felt terrible". At another party "I had a short and a lemonade or something and I got totally smashed again and in the morning I didn't feel half as bad, my head felt clear, I didn't have any fur on my tongue". The main point being that when he went to parties "I got sort of a bit smashed and you'd stagger home and used to wake up in the morning with your head's, and your tongue feeling like a carpet and all this sort of stuff ... I thought "fine" as you expect that when you go out". But now, as he drives to the nightclub and he doesn't want to get "nicked" or have his car taken away he drinks coke or orange juice and he finds that "when I come out at the end of the evening, I'm acting as if I had had drinks; I'm just sort of larking around, laughing and doing silly things, things you normally wouldn't do, although I haven't had anything to drink and all my friends say "cor, you're pissed even more than I am" and all that stuff and I haven't drunk anything". He puts this down to adrenalin. You just get into the flow'. Your reactions are exactly the same when you're thinking of driving. But in the crowd you just act as if you're drunk.
Staying sober, he becomes very much more aware of other people going through stages of drunkenness; "You can see what's happening" says John, "You can see they're slowing up, and they're starting to stagger around and all their reactions are gone right down and their eyes are sort of drooping". This has not affected his view of his own behaviour "If I went to another party and I wasn't driving, I was taken there or went by taxi or something, now I'd still like a drink, a short or lager or something. I wouldn't drink so much. I would have a couple of orange juices or a coke or something. Because, it's cheaper and I find I can get just as much enjoyment without it."
Observing other people getting drunk whilst remaining sober has proved educational, says John. "I wouldn't go out and just sort of drink 8 pints and go completely out of my brains and sort of just stagger around and think, you know, "this is a great time". I mean if you're in that state you can't really enjoy yourself". He finds he has just as much fun if he's drinking orange juice and coke.
He has noticed some of the physical effects of drinking; 'Your reactions sort of happen ... when you go and try to pick a glass up .... You go to pick a glass up and your arm goes and picks it up and you think "hello". He also says "I find that if you look at something then you flick your vision around, if you're sort of gone, then your vision catches up to your head ... ". He believes alcohol has some beneficial qualities; "It relaxes you. It makes you have more confidence I suppose. You lose your natural fear".
He also believes "it brings out your personality. If you go to a party and you get merry and you start joining in with people you've never known before you say "hello, how're you doing, you alright? Can I buy you a drink and all this stuff". When you sort of come back, I feel that some of that experience has sort of gone onto your personality, anyway, even when you don't need drinks, you're sort of more open, more extroverted; it brings you self confidence; you can say "I can do it with drinks and I can do it without drinks". It's like a gate, if you like; have a drink, open the gate, and you sort of have a chat, you say "hello" things you'd never do to a complete stranger. Then when you see the gate close, but you sort of remember it, and you want to go over there again."
John does not recollect anybody behaving hurtfully or saying things they may deeply regret whilst under the influence of alcohol. John does, however, remember a strange moment following a great many drinks when he was on holiday in Ibiza." "We had a barbecue. There was a large group of people from a whole complex of apartments. It was a big barbecue and the sangria was flowing. I got totally blottoed, and I was staggering down this street and for some reason I decided, I don't know, to spit on a car for some reason, I would never normally go up to a car and spit on the windshield or something like that. "What the hell am I doing?" As soon as you've done it, you say "What the hell did I do that for?" It just clicks it into your brain. You just feel destructive. It's strange". He says he still has no idea why he did it. He was on his own. "I think sometimes alcohol brings out the hooligan in people".
On the subject of male, drunken, hooliganism John has this to say "Once on a school trip, one of my friends, a boy, he had 7 pints or something. He got totally blotto. There was another school at the hotel we were staying at. And just because there was another school, he was sort of swearing and we had to lock him in the room and he was kicking around this stool in his bare feet. God knows what he done to his feet, they were totally numb etc, he was going "Oh I want to get these bastards etc he hadn't even seen them really. Only on the skiing slopes" I rather feel that's the sort of badness that's definitely ... normally maybe he would have said ... some sort of foul word. He wouldn't actually have done anything. In the end we just let him out down the corridor, cos we couldn't get to sleep or anything and he was sort of swearing "Where d'ya hide the key?" and all this so we just let him out and let him stagger around. I think he found his way to someone else's room".
He has "never seen women get that far really. Men and boys will get sloshed and for a sort of outlet they just have a fight or have an argument or shout and scream and do silly things like smash windows etc but I've never see many girls or women ...." He says of girls "They just sort of get drunker and pass out."
John offers an explanation for why men drink. "I think most men drink to get over their initial fear of sort of going over to a girl and saying you know "will you dance?" or something "can I buy you a drink?" Most poeple, I feel, know that if they have too much to drink they're going to be called "arsehead" or something, total twat or something. I'm sure they know it's not sexually attractive or anything. They have a drink so they get out of their fear or stigma, or something like this to ask a girl out."
He is conscious of double standards he can't really explain "I wouldn't go out with a girl who got totally pissed. Merry yes. But I would go with boys who, I don't know, I know somebody who every time you went out for a drink got totally pissed out of their brains (a boy). But if I went out with a girl. I don't think I would. For some reason". Whether or not he would ask or want a girl to accompany him with "the lads" one evening depended on other factors. "Depends. If you went out in couples then yes. Because everyone would keep down the drink. But if you went out with the lads .. because you'd feel that if you'd had a lot of drink or vice versa and for some reason you don't like " Put more explicitly John would buy his girlfriend an orange juice or something non alcoholic. "You wouldn't feel it was right for the girl to get absolutely pissed out of her brains. You wouldn't want your girl friend throwing up all over the floor. But you would think it was funny if one of your mates did it. You'd laugh at him."
John says he has never thrown up personally and he has "got drunk some". He still believes that some women are 'exceptions' in that they too will "get sloshed as men and throw up and pass out etc, but on the whole they don't". If John was going out with a girl "I wouldn't personally aim to get drunk.
Have a few drinks, yeah, but, you know, make them laugh, have something non-alcoholic. I wouldn't aim usually to get drunk with a girl."
He is not always impressed by the behaviour of his male contemporaries when under the influence of drink "If you're with a load of mates who are just out to get pretty pissed and go after a lot of Gothics. They get drunk and go after anybody on the dance floor who looks remotely gothic (silver rings, dressed in black). I wouldn't go out with that group. I would rather stay with a group who are just going after a good time without any sort of violence, whether that be girls or some boys or both." "On the whole people who want to be violent go and have a drink and be violent" in John's opinion but "people who don't want to be violent they'll have a drink and they won't". Fighting seems to be associated with 'groups' rather than individual behaviour "If just one gothic come in and it's just you and him next the bar. It just wouldn't occur to you". On the other hand "I suppose there are some people who their inner selves, when they become drunk, come out and they become violent and they just sort of go after anybody, knock into them ...".