Drink Tank

Degrees of drinking

The behaviour of today’s university students is enough to give an alcohol therapist heart failure. Australian youth have been labelled as the ‘binge drinking’ youth, drinking harder and faster than our previous generations; drinking to excess, pressuring others to drink more and consuming the recommended weekly alcohol intake in just one sitting. Is this the degree we are getting from our university years?

Universities are renowned for their social life and bars. In recent years, the alcohol industry has cottoned on to rising profitability in areas where universities are located, and subsequently increased the density of alcohol vendors and bars in areas where a university is situated.

In our uni days we all tend to drink more, socialise more and for most, as it was for me, it’s our first introduction to the drinking culture. However, a big question around university drinking cultures is if students are being introduced to unhealthy levels of drinking and seeing that as the norm, how does that affect their attitudes towards alcohol that could well be carried forward?

Earlier this year I decided to conduct a pilot survey as a part of a course to gather more information about the student drinking culture in an attempt to get a clearer picture of what it was really like.

Interestingly, engineering students were the only respondents who strongly disagreed that alcohol was readily available on campus, and not surprisingly, the more students drank, the less they were likely to believe that there was a ‘university drinking culture’.

However, the more sinister aspects of the university drinking culture were revealed when I found significant correlations that women at university agree they have felt pressure to consume more alcohol at uni events or around uni peers. Pressure to drink can increase the harm associated with peer-to-peer alcohol consumption and lead to problems in behaviour, safety and the overall experience of a student on campus. That this pressure is being felt more by women could be a reflection on the type of drinking culture universities are generating.

As I walked around the university asking students if they would complete the survey, I had a lot ask; ‘what is a standard drink?’ Some students said they just judged a standard drink by the cup or bottle, saying one glass, cup or bottle was one standard drink in their opinion. In the survey results, I found that male students are significantly more likely to consume over six drinks in one sitting, and that’s not six standard drinks, because no one seemed to know what that meant. Furthermore, a decent proportion of respondents marked that they had, within the past six months, not been able to remember the events of the previous night.

Universities do have a culture of drinking and it is detrimental. Increased supply of alcohol in the area, vendors and late opening hours could be having an impact on shaping this culture and creating a heavier drinking component of campus life. It is essential that there is an investigation as to the impacts of high-density alcohol availability in and around campus, advertising targeted at students and why university culture has generated an unhealthy approach to alcohol.

Australia could be creating a ‘binge drinking’ youth. That’s not their fault. There is a demonstrated need to look closer at our alcohol laws and regulations before the university students of today become the alcoholics of tomorrow.

Vivienne Moxham-Hall

Vivienne Moxham-Hall is a Graduate from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science, she is currently completing her Master of Health Policy. Vivienne is a Honorary Advisor to the board of Australia21 where she got involved in advocacy around drug policy and participated in the two round tables conducted on Australia's illicit drug policy. She also volunteers for Surf Life Saving Australia and St John Ambulance.

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