A look at Queen’s student drinking culture

‘Now, I hate the weekends’

Many students feel pressured to drink past their comfort level.

This story discusses substance abuse. It may be triggering for some readers.

Sarah*, ArtSci ’25, is a first-year student who doesn’t drink. However, being sober has made her social life at Queen’s complicated. 

“I do find myself having a really hard time on the weekends because I don't enjoy going to parties,” Sarah said in an interview with The Journal. 

In high school, Sarah’s weekend activities included some parties and activities that didn’t involve drinking, like seeing movies with friends. Since arriving at Queen’s, she’s found much less variety in leisure activities.

“There's such a pressure to go out on Thursdays, on Fridays, on Saturdays, and drink. I feel like a lot of people think that that's the only way they can have fun. I hear a lot of people saying it's so much easier to meet new people when you get blackout drunk.”

According to Sarah, many students feel a tremendous amount of social pressure to drink.

“At the beginning of school, I would always go to the parties with my friends even though they were drunk and everyone else was drunk, and I was just there. I had a horrible time,” Sarah said. 

“Now, I hate the weekends.”

Despite being comfortable in her sobriety, Sarah can’t escape the pressure. Sometimes, she finds it easier to lie than explain her choice not to drink.

“My lab partner in physics asked me, ‘What did you do for St. Patty's?’ I was like, ‘I went out with my friends,’” she said. “I actually went home that weekend.”

Sarah emphasized that, despite her negative experiences being sober at social events, no one should avoid drinking to make their peers more comfortable. Regardless, she doesn’t think binge drinking is taken seriously enough.

“If you're getting blackout drunk three times a week and you're underage, that's obviously a health problem,” she said. 

According to Sarah, even if they’ve ended up in the hospital from too much alcohol, some students don’t see binge-drinking as an issue. The situation may even be laughed off. 

“I feel like with other substances, it’s definitely more frowned upon to overuse them. But with alcohol, it's the more, the merrier. The more you drink, the better. Not even thinking about the dangerous sides of it.”


Drinking culture is often glorified in media. However, the realities of binge drinking can often be a lot more sinister. Not only are there health consequences associated with drinking alcohol, there are also dangerous behaviours associated with it, like unsafe sex, assault, and addiction.

Although Noelle*, ArtSci ’22, enjoys occasionally drinking, she’s concerned about how her peers approach alcohol. She said when they go out, the goal is to get “blackout” and “wasted.”

“They talk about what the easiest thing to drink is, what will get you the drunkest the fastest,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “It's all just about getting as intoxicated as possible as quickly and as easily and as cheaply as possible.”

Noelle has observed drinking culture often goes hand in hand with the use of other—often more dangerous—substances.

“Most people I know that are going out and drinking a lot, almost every single week, are also adding other substances,” she said. “Usually those other substances are, in a twisted way, meant to even each other out.” 

“You get too drunk from drinking, and so you have no energy, so then you go do a line of coke to bring you back up. You are too anxious from smoking too much, so then you go to have some drinks to make you less anxious.”

According to Noelle, with the closure of bars and clubs, drinking copious amounts of alcohol was no longer an activity that happened outside the home. This caused the lines between party settings and casual social settings to blur. 

“There was no separation of ‘this is a drinking setting’ and ‘this is a casual, no alcohol or low alcohol social setting.’ They had to get mashed into one,” she explained.

As students make drinking a part of their everyday lives, Noelle said we need to remember the dangerous sides of alcohol. Drinking too much is not only bad for your body, but can lead to addiction when unchecked.

“I think you can have drinks every single weekend and then graduate university and go on to have a normal life. But I think there are some people who have signs of addictions and are experiencing addiction.”

When it comes to combating dangerous levels of alcohol use in students, Noelle thinks Queen’s should be doing more. Providing students with the skills to recognize the signs of addiction and substance abuse could help manage the drinking culture at Queen’s.

“I think this school should be making a bigger effort to teach people about alcoholism and addiction because I think that's what it is,” Noelle said. 

“How are you supposed to recognize those signs internally when your social life and the culture around you is telling you that [binge-drinking] is a perfectly normal thing to want to do all the time?” 


People started questioning Amy DeBoer, ArtSci ’23, about drinking at Queen’s before she even arrived on campus. 

“When I told people I was going to Queen’s, the thought was, ‘Oh, you're going to go to the party school?’ which is not why I chose Queen’s,” DeBoer said in an interview with The Journal.

By orientation week, DeBoer had discovered that drinking large amounts of alcohol was often at the centre of Queen’s social life. 

“I remember my frosh group was invited out, even though I don't think any of us were going to be of age. It wasn't pressured, obviously, because we could all say no, but it felt like the expected thing to do.”

Remaining sober at university is often associated with the fear of missing out (FOMO). Students who don’t engage in the party culture often feel like they’re being boring, judged, or losing formative experiences with their peers.

DeBoer stopped drinking in her second year at Queen’s. Although her sobriety is a personal choice, she feels as if people often expect an explanation. 

“I always feel like people judge me poorly based on it, and I feel like I have to explain to them why [I’m sober] even though it's none of their business,” DeBoer said.

“I stopped drinking in second year because I didn't like that sphere and what was going along with it. I felt it was healthier and safer for me not to engage in it.” 

Even though DeBoer no longer drinks alcohol, it’s still offered to her frequently. 

Since she stopped drinking, DeBoer has found it more difficult to be social at Queen’s. Especially since the pandemic began: she feels there aren’t many options for students to gather that don’t involve consuming alcohol. Following the onset of COVID-19 health measures, in-person social events run by academic departments and student clubs had to be canceled or run online. 

“The only thing I can think of that isn't party culture is clubs, and that was cool. COVID has really squashed most of that,” DeBoer said.


Riley Bonar, ArtSci ’22, occasionally participates in Queen’s street parties like Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day, but thinks party environments can be dangerous for many people. 

“I don't like the binge drinking because I feel like some people feel like they're obligated to drink excessively, and half the time people don't really know their limits,” Bonar said in an interview with The Journal.

Safe drinking practices include drinking lots of water throughout, avoiding drinking on an empty stomach, and never mixing drugs and alcohol. Often, practices like these are neglected for the sake of having a ‘fun’ night.

Bonar pointed out that coming from a sheltered environment to one where you feel pressured to drink can have a disastrous effect on teenagers who don't know their limits, especially when being part of a drinking culture can incur social status. He believes first-year students are particularly at risk.

“They feel like, in order to fit in, they have to drink excessively, and that leads them to not really knowing their limits and getting into some dangerous territory.”

To Bonar, this pressure comes from the mindset of some Queen’s students who struggle to balance tough academics with a thriving social life. 

“I feel like it's just kind of ingrained in Queen's culture,” he said. “You drink to get blackout, you grind, and then you party hard after.” 

Despite being someone who drinks alcohol, Bonar can’t escape the pressure of expecting to get as drunk as one possibly can.

“I have definitely felt pressured to drink more than I wanted,” he said. “I haven’t actually succumbed to that pressure, but it is very easy to do so.” 

*Names changed for anonymity.

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