Alcohol’s relationship to crime is well-known, with alcohol-related crime costing £11bn in the UK per year, according to the Home Office. This has meant many articles have been written advising people on how to avoid being the victim of alcohol-related crime. However, I am not going to do this. Instead, I want to emphasise that although university is a time to have fun on nights out, drunkenness is not a free pass to behave badly. If you do, you risk becoming part of those statistics, no matter how far from the stereotypical drunken criminal you see yourself as.
In December 2016 I returned home after my first term at university, immediately organising a night at the pub. The night ended as usual with a drunken walk to McDonald’s. Upon arrival we discovered it had closed, to which in mock frustration I kicked the door, causing the glass to smash. At least that’s what I assume happened, as I personally don’t have many memories of the event until the moment I saw the police car pull up and I was arrested for criminal damage. Once at the station I was put in a police cell where I spent the next 15 hours.
Some of you may have woken up after a heavy night of drinking proclaiming you will never drink again. This is what I experienced the next morning, waking up in a freezing police cell. My day did not improve. I was photographed, gave a DNA sample and then taken back to the cell for a further 7 hours. Now completely sober, my mind raced with fear and panic asking myself the same questions: did I do this? What will happen? Will I have to leave uni?
Eventually my interview began – until this point I had been praying that when shown the evidence the whole thing would be revealed as a case of mistaken identity. However, to my shame the CCTV revealed I had caused the damage, proving my lack of memory rightly irrelevant. Once the interview had finished I was taken back to the cell, where for the next hour it seemed I felt every negative emotion possible: guilt, fear, sadness. Yet, it also gave me time to reflect on how for too long I had used alcohol as a way to escape from difficult emotions. Eventually I was informed that the police had made the decision I would not be charged but would instead be given a caution – an alternative to prosecution when a criminal record is not appropriate, but will still be kept on file by the police.
Many will have no sympathy for the situation I found myself in. I agree, after all I was 19 years-old and had to take responsibility. Yet I would also ask how many of you have done something on a night out which in hindsight could have got you in trouble? If you have, it shows it may be easier to find yourself in a similar situation than you imagine.
Spending the day in a cell waiting to answer questions about an event I had no memory of will likely remain the worst day of my life, but how do I feel now? Although I still feel guilt for the incident itself, it did in hindsight have one benefit – it made me realise I was using alcohol as a way to self-medicate and I needed to get help.
Nearly two years on and after counselling, I now rarely drink and could not be happier. I am a healthier and better person. However, I haven’t written this to persuade everyone to be teetotal. If you are part of the majority of people who never do anything particularly out of character when drunk that’s brilliant, keep on enjoying yourselves. However, if you suspect you use alcohol to self-medicate or it changes your personality significantly, maybe consider cutting down. After all, just one out of character incident caused by alcohol can lead to scary situations, and fewer situations are scarier than Christmas in a prison cell.