Is “I was drunk” an acceptable excuse?

Every once in a while I go for a cup of coffee with a friend of mine and in all our infinite wisdom we put the world to rights. The other week we got onto the topic of alcohol, which would appear to be everywhere at university, as is to be expected. My friend and I have differing but fairly similar attitudes.

I probably drink quite a bit more than he does. He would never say he’s been “properly” drunk—I certainly have on occasion! I get the feeling I enjoy drinking and the general culture it embraces a bit more. But we both agree that there are lots of situations in which alcohol is involved where we’d rather it wasn’t quite so much at the forefront. We talked about how dangerous it can feel in a nightclub around aggressive or boisterous drunk people, or how often those who don’t want to get drunk can feel pressured or isolated by those who do. Particularly at a time when UEA is taking part in the wonderful “It’s Never OK” campaign to combat sexual harassment, it seems more important than ever to take on board that behaviour when drunk—though not necessarily sexual—can often be the opposite of OK.

We concluded that the excuse “I was drunk at the time” is never really an excuse at all. But what’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?

It’s a well-known fact that varying amounts of alcohol can change the way we all behave. Some people become more relaxed, some can get aggressive, some can find things funny that they wouldn’t appreciate sober, and many of us feel a lot more confident and experience a lowering of inhibitions.

And of course, a lot of the time, that’s great. Many of my more reserved friends—and I would class myself among them—have commented that they’re glad they got a bit drunk during Freshers as it made the whole experience marginally less daunting and it was a lot easier to approach and chat to new—equally tipsy—people than it would have been sober.

It can therefore be argued that often a change in behaviour due to drinking can lead to fun times and fond memories. But what happens when we make a mistake whilst drunk? Where does the responsibility lie and what are the repercussions?

Sometimes, let’s all be honest, it can be hilarious. When one flatmate smears Nutella and hummus over another flatmate’s face as they sleep (in an incident now fondly referred to as hummus-gate) well, it’s not the most considerate thing to do, but there’s no real harm done and it’s a good story.

But I’ve always wondered how much of one’s personality really changes when they’ve had too much to drink. Myself, I tend to become more relaxed and giddy. But when people become aggressive it’s always made me feel that you have to have a streak of something in your personality already for it to come out. I would never start a fight sober, nor would I do so drunk. Not only do I completely lack the physical strength for it to be anything but a stupid idea, but I also just don’t have it in me. It’s not in my nature. Is it in yours?

Time after time I notice people being exceptionally rude or aggressive, or just plain inconsiderate to the feelings of others, and I wonder what they would think of themselves if they were sober. Not to sound too old and boring, but I really am sick of the excuse “I was drunk”. Unless somebody forced or pressured you into drinking, then your being drunk—and yes, your behaviour when drunk—is still your responsibility. You are still you, even after several drinks. And the people you meet are still people who deserve respect. In the morning, you will sober up and recover from your hangover, but those you were rude, aggressive or worse to while drunk will still remember last night even if you don’t. The events of the night before don’t fade with your hangover.

It’s true that we often have less control of our actions when we drink, and sometimes that’s OK. But I have to wonder: if you are consistently causing trouble or hurting those around you… is it even worth getting drunk at all?


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January 2022
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