The dark side of Oktoberfest: Examining the potential challenges and risks of excessive drinking

Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany, is a celebration renowned for its vibrant atmosphere, rich cultural heritage and endless supply of beer. Over the years, the event has evolved into a massive folk festival that showcases traditional Bavarian culture, including music, food and, of course, copious amounts of beer (5.7 litres of beer were consumed by Oktoberfest attendees in 2022 alone!). Oktoberfest draws an average of six million visitors from around the globe each year, which, to put it into perspective, is four times the population of Munich. However, there’s a side to Oktoberfest that often remains obscured by the revelry – the potential challenges and risks of excessive drinking.

With Oktoberfest 2023 just around the corner, let’s delve into the less glamorous aspects of festivals like Oktoberfest, shedding light on the health risks, social consequences, safety concerns and more.

Oktoberfest beer barrels

What is Oktoberfest?

To bring you up to speed, here is a quick Oktoberfest 101:

Infographic explaining Oktoberfest

The potential dangers of festivals

While Oktoberfest and other festivals can be amazing events to attend, the excessive drinking that often takes place can lead to a number of potential issues. Alcohol, when consumed in large quantities over a short period, commonly known as “binge drinking”, can pose health dangers, impair judgement and coordination and result in accidents, injuries and even fatalities. Some of the major issues include:

Health risks and consequences of binge drinking

Binge drinking can have serious implications for your health, and it is important to be aware of these when you attend any festival:

  • Dehydration and hangovers: The diuretic effect of alcohol can lead to dehydration, causing symptoms like fatigue, dizziness and dry mouth, while hangovers, characterised by headaches, nausea and confusion, are a common aftermath of binge drinking.
  • Alcohol poisoning: Consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period can overwhelm your body’s ability to process it. This can lead to alcohol poisoning, a dangerous condition characterised by confusion, vomiting, seizures, slowed or irregular breathing and even unconsciousness. Alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical attention, which is one reason why Oktoberfest 2022 deployed 450 paramedics and 50 doctors to the festival every day.
  • Liver damage: Binge drinking can significantly strain your liver, leading to inflammation and potentially irreparable damage over time. Long-term excessive drinking can result in fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis, which can have severe health consequences and can even be lethal.
  • Weakened immune system: Alcohol weakens the immune system, making your body more susceptible to infections. This can increase your risk of illnesses and delay recovery from common ailments. There were major concerns about Covid-19 before Oktoberfest 2022 (as the festival had been cancelled for two years due to the Pandemic), and major spikes in Covid infections were reported during the festival.
  • Alcohol addiction and mental health: Binge drinking can contribute to the development of alcohol addiction, a chronic condition characterised by the inability to control alcohol consumption despite the negative impact it is having on your life. Alcohol addiction can have far-reaching effects on your mental and emotional well-being, contributing to anxiety, depression and overall decreased quality of life.

Impact on the local community

Beyond personal health, the excessive consumption of alcohol during festivals like Oktoberfest can also have a profound impact on the local community. While the influx of tourists and festival-goers can provide economic benefits, it can also strain local resources through overcrowding, public disturbances and increased demand for emergency services. Excessive drinking can also lead to an uptick in crime, as impaired judgement and behaviour can result in altercations and even violence. For example, at Oktoberfest 2022, 967 criminal offences were reported, the police temporarily detained 266 people, and 376 were arrested.

Social consequences and safety concerns

Excessive drinking at festivals like Oktoberfest can also have social and relationship ramifications. Alcohol can cause even the most level-headed individuals to act in atypical ways, leading to potential fights, cheating on your partner, risky sexual behaviour and sexual assaults. While Oktoberfest is generally considered a comparable safe festival, the combination of large crowds, alcohol and potentially impaired judgement can give rise to safety concerns. Theft, harassment and accidents can also occur in crowded spaces where personal boundaries are easily breached. It’s crucial for attendees to remain vigilant and prioritise their safety by staying with a group, avoiding isolated areas and being mindful of their belongings. You can see statistics for crimes committed at Oktoberfest in 2019 and 2020 below:

Oktoberfest: examining the potential challenges and risks of excessive drinking - Crime statistics at Oktoberfest graph
(Image Credit- Statista)

Crime is also an issue at British festivals, as seen in the chart below. Some of this is fuelled by alcohol and drug use, further highlighting the need for drinking awareness and staying safe when attending a festival or big event:

Oktoberfest: Examining the potential risk and challenges of excessive drinking - Crime at UK Festivals statistics
(Image Credit – Statista)

Alleviating risks and raising awareness

As a responsible festival-goer, there are steps you can take to minimise the risks associated with excessive drinking at Oktoberfest or any other event:

Know your limits…

Understand your tolerance and set a limit for yourself before you start drinking. This is not always easy as you may get caught up in the atmosphere of the event but do your best to stick to your decision and avoid peer pressure. It is also important to be aware that the beer at Oktoberfest is far stronger than most UK beer so you will likely need to adjust for the higher alcohol content.

Alcohol content graph

(Image Credit – Statista)

Stay hydrated…

Most people attend festivals like Oktoberfest for multiple days, which leads to extended drinking. One effective tip is to alternate alcoholic beverages with water to prevent dehydration and slow down your alcohol consumption.

Eat well…

Food can help slow the absorption of alcohol and lessen its effects. Oktoberfest is famed for food from giant pretzels to traditional German sausages, ideal for a full day of partying.

Assign a designated driver or take a taxi…

If you plan to drink, it is always best to take a taxi from a reputable service or assign a designated driver. If you are going to a multi-day festival like Oktoberfest with a group of friends, you can take turns being the designated driver one day each.

Seek help for alcohol addiction if needed…

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, reaching out for assistance is important. Organisations like UKAT offer resources and support for individuals seeking help and can help to overcome alcohol addiction and transform your life.

Final thoughts

Festivals like Oktoberfest can be real bucket list experiences, but it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential risks that excessive drinking can pose during such events. By staying aware of how much alcohol they consume, festival attendees can make informed choices and ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience. Remember, responsible enjoyment and moderation are key to making the most of the festivities without compromising your well-being. As they say in Germany, “Prost!”