Festivals offer the opportunity to relax and experience some things you wouldn’t normally. This could be the music, the atmosphere or a whole range of other experiences depending on your chosen festival. It could also mean access to drugs and levels of drinking that you wouldn’t normally indulge in.
It can be all too easy to overdo things in this atmosphere and get yourself into trouble. You want to come out of a festival experience with good memories, not a hospital stay or pending legal action. We take a look at some of the risks of drugs and alcohol at festivals and, if you don’t wish to abstain, how to reduce those risks.
The press focus is often on drugs when reporting on festivals. The impact of drink is easy to overlook since it is so prevalent in society, but it causes more harm than any other substance you may be offered at a festival. Figures from 2016 show that alcohol was directly responsible for just over 5,500 deaths in the UK.
The festival situation can encourage binge drinking. This can lead to the consumption of a toxic level of alcohol. If you consume drink faster than your body can process it, you run the risk of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is the leading cause of poisoning in Britain and this is particularly true for young people.
Alcohol poisoning can, in severe cases, see people slip into a coma, suffer brain damage or die.
There is also the increased risk of having an accident, getting into fights, getting taken advantage of or at the very least, vomiting and feeling unwell the next day. If abstaining completely isn’t an option, let’s take a look at some other options.
Staying Safe When Drinking at Festivals
Firstly, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t overdo it – yeah, yeah. Can’t do that? If at all possible then, try to avoid binge drinking too fast. Try to slow the pace as much as you can. Give your brain and liver a chance to cope. Three days is a long time to subject yourself to punishing levels of alcohol.
Check to see where the medical tent is on the first day while you’re still sober so that you can get yourself or a friend some help if things go too far. A little forethought and planning will stand you in good stead when things start to go bendy.
Making sure you don’t become dehydrated is always good advice but particularly so when you’re drinking alcohol. You could alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks to make sure you don’t get too drunk or dehydrated.
If not alternate, at least have some breaks where you have a drink of water or a soft drink. It will not only lessen your hangover symptoms but also make sure you don’t get into trouble you would have otherwise avoided. Free water should be available at all festivals. They have to, it’s the law.
Eat something when you’re drinking. The rate at which alcohol is absorbed is dramatically affected by having some food in your stomach. A good breakfast and regular snacks during the day will help you stay the course. Festival fun is a marathon not a sprint. What’s the point in getting destroyed after a couple of hours on day one and ruining the rest of the festival?
It is important to pace yourself; you don’t want to find that you are throwing up in the toilets when the headline act hits the stage. Surely the whole idea is to have fun. If you do drink, getting a little tipsy can enhance the atmosphere but being out of control is never enjoyable and always ends in regret.
Despite the number of people consuming drugs in the UK not greatly changing, the number of users suffering negative impacts, including medical emergencies, due to drugs is on the rise. This is believed to be partly due to stronger pills and purer powders. Ecstasy pills often contain more than double the amount of MDMA, these days, over the averages found a decade ago.
Whether you are a regular drug consumer or not, the risks of taking drugs at festivals have been clearly demonstrated and well documented in recent years. There were two drug-related deaths at Mutiny Festival and one at Leeds Festival last year, that we know of. In the case of Mutiny Festival, this resulted in the remaining day of the event being cancelled.
The only way to make absolutely sure that you don’t have a problem when taking drugs is to avoid them completely. If you do want to take the risk, however, there are a few things you can do to make the situation safer.
Taking Drugs Safely at Festivals
It is important to stay hydrated when taking drugs as well as alcohol. Though if you are taking ecstasy there is actually a risk of drinking too much water. This drug can prevent your body from releasing water from your cells, which can lead to too much water being consumed. Drinking large quantities of water in a short period has the potential to wash essential nutrients and salts out of your body which can do you great harm.
Make sure you stick together. If you are taking drugs, it can be safer if you stay with your friends. If you are looking out for one another, it’s more likely someone will spot you getting into trouble and be able to get you help more quickly.
Don’t mix drugs and don’t take alcohol at the same time. Some drug combinations can cause serious health problems. Drinking alcohol when you have taken pills can also lead to permanent damage to your liver.
Mixing drugs and drink can also complicate things, if you get into trouble and need medical attention. It’s a lot easier for the medics to decide on the best course of action, if they are only dealing with one thing at a time.
If you or your friends need medical help, make sure that you tell the medics exactly what substance/s you believe has been taken. Pretending that there are no drugs involved is downright dangerous. People have died who could have been saved because of this kind of stupidity. If you think you’re mature enough to make a decision to take a drug, be mature enough come clean with the Doc and help them help you or your friend.
One of the biggest problems with consuming illegal substances is that you don’t really know what you are taking. It’s not like going to a pharmacy where you know exactly what you are buying. Fortunately, many festivals now provide testing facilities. While this isn’t going to completely remove the risks involved, you will be able to see how strong the substances are, which will hopefully reduce the chance of an overdose.
These testing facilities also allow you to discuss your drug-taking with a professional. They will be able to advise you further as to how you can protect your health whilst still having fun.
In the same way that it’s a good idea to go slowly with alcohol and not just neck half a bottle of vodka in one go, it’s also a good idea to go slowly with drugs, especially pills and powders.
Considering the fact that you may have no idea of the real strength or composition of the substance you’ve bought; you could always try a small amount of a pill or powder and see how you feel after an hour or two. People have different capacities and tolerances to different substances, don’t succumb to pressure to drink or take as much as your friends.
Like it or not, just because you are at a music festival, where things may seem more relaxed and free, you are still subject to the law of the land. Getting caught with illegal substances could still lead to prosecution.
The festival will have security on entry, this may include searches and sniffer dogs. Police might also be searching people before they get to the event location, at bus or train stations, for example. If you get caught with something you shouldn’t have, you may never get to see any performances that weekend.
If you are buying drugs for you and a friend, you could be charged with supplying drugs and be considered a drug dealer in the eyes of the law. Worst case, this could result in a serious prison sentence.
Even if you just get caught with a small quantity, there is a risk of a criminal record. This could affect your future prospects such as employment opportunities and ability to travel abroad. Drug convictions are viewed as serious by most countries when deciding whether to let you in. This isn’t just a moral judgement about your life choices, it’s more to do with the fact that, to some extent, you have been engaged with criminals. You didn’t buy it from Boots, did you?
We shouldn’t really have to tell you about this, but here goes. If you’re the one driving home after the festival, you’re the one who will get the points, lose their license and get a fine, if you are caught driving over the alcohol limit or with drugs in your blood stream.
If you party until 5am on the Sunday night, the chances are slim to none that you will be under the legal limit by 12pm on the Monday.
It’s not possible to accurately advise on when to stop drinking as the numbers will be vastly different for a 20 stone (127Kg), person who is drinking a pint of weak lager every hour compared to an 8 stone (51Kg) person who is drinking 40% alcohol shots every 20 mins.
If you’re driving, you’re a grown up (unfortunately) so capable of working this out for yourselves. If in doubt, abstain on the day before you drive, especially if traveling in, or back to, Scotland as the legal blood alcohol limits are lower.
The overall message when taking either drink or drugs at a festival is to take it slow if you want to remain safe and get the most out of your festival experience.
Also, festival tickets aren’t cheap. If you get completely wasted you aren’t going to remember much about it, or really get the best out of the event, and you may even end up doing something you later regret. Stay safe and have fun.