University students throughout the western world are well known for their drunken exploits. Until recently there has been little New Zealand information on student alcohol consumption and its associated risks.
How much is harmful?
Having 6 or more drinks on one occasion (4 for women) is internationally recognised as hazardous. This is often called “binge drinking.” Smaller amounts can be harmful if consumed quickly.
How much do New Zealand Students Drink?
Waikato University Study
In 2000, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Audit) was used in a survey of 493 Waikato University students who use alcohol, to determine the prevalence of hazardous drinking: (1)
- • 65% of students who drink were shown to drink at levels considered harmful (Audit score 8+).
• 64% of students typically drink more than 5-6 glasses on a drinking occasion.
• 38% of students who drink reported “binge drinking” weekly.
• Almost a quarter of students (22%), drink more than 10 drinks per occasion.
•The risk factors associated with increased binge drinking were, being between 18-21 years of age, being a first-year student and living in a hall of residence.
Dunedin University Study
The Audit test was also used in a large survey of drinking prevalence and its harmful consequences in university halls of residence in Dunedin in 2000.(2)
The survey found that:
- • 63% of males and 48% of females scored 8+ (in the hazardous range).
• 26% of all respondents reported that they had been injured as a result of their drinking.
• Males averaged 24 drinks a week, females 13.5 drinks per week.
• Males typically consumed 8.5 drinks per occasion: (compared with the national average of 7 drinks per occasion for 20—24 year olds)(3).
• Females typically consumed 5.5 drinks.
Why do Students Binge Drink?• Students report alcohol consumption as being positive in peer interactions and an important part of growing up.
"It's just what you do when you're a student"
• Peer pressure and a culture of alcohol consumption on campus.
"I didn't want to stop partying. Everyone I hung out with
on the weekends was drinking. You feel out of place when you're not."(4)
• Academic stress
What are the Harms Associated with Drinking?
Students who binge drink “suffer a higher rate of educational, social, and health problems in comparison to their non-drinking peers.”(5)
Risks to health and well-being:
Of the Waikato drinkers surveyed, during past academic year:
- • 22% got into a car with a driver who had had too much to drink or drove a car themselves when they had had too much to drink
• 16% had ended up in a sexual situation they were not happy about
• 12% had had unprotected sex with a new partner
• 12% had upset a family member due to drinking
• 69% spent more than they intended on alcohol
In Dunedin, in the 3 months prior to the study:
- • 10% of male drinkers and 9% of female drinkers had unsafe sex
• 16% of males got into fights
It’s Bad for Passing Exams
In Waikato, during academic year prior to the study:
- • 40% of the sample of student drinkers had missed a lecture or tutorial due to their drinking behaviour
• 39% had felt so ill they didn’t go out or to university or work
• 27% had impaired performance during a lecture /tutorial
• 36% of males and 31% of females had periods of time not remembered in last 3 months
• 16% reported difficulty concentrating
The outcomes associated with drinking are “incompatible with the atmosphere required for optimal learning to take place.”
Student Understanding of Safe Drinking Practices
The study at Waikato University assessed students knowledge of safe drinking strategies:
- • 53% reported: “ I listen to friends when they tell me I’ve had enough to drink”.
• Half of students (52%) reported always stopping drinking when: “I’ve felt I’ve had enough”.
• The most common methods of taking care of themselves were focused on transport, organising for a taxi home/sober driver.
Developing a Safer Approach to Drinking
- • Always eat substantial food before drinking or while drinking.
• Organise safe transport.
• Pace yourself — drink some non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks.
• Do something else as well as drinking. Don’t just drink. Don’t get involved in drinking games.
• Drink for the taste, choose drinks you enjoy and savour the taste.
• Dilute spirits.
• Learn to identify when you’ve had enough and how to refuse drinks. Listen to your friends if they say you’ve had enough.
1. D. Adam, N. Welsh, C Pendlebury, K Merritt A Culture of Consumption: An Investigation into Alcohol Drinking Patterns Amongst University Students .Department of Psychology, Waikato, November 2000.
2. Kypri, K., McGee, R., Langley, J. D., Saunders, J. B., & Williams, S. (2002). High prevalence, persistent hazardous drinking in New Zealand tertiary students. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 37(5), 457-464
3. Habgood R, Casswell S, Pledger, M. et al Drinking in New Zealand National Surveys Comparison 1995 & 2000 Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit.
4. John Petrone Expelled by the University of Delaware The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 12, 1998.
5. Wechsler, Eun Lee, Kuo et al; "Trends in College Binge Drinking During a Period of Increased Prevention Efforts" Journal of American College Health. 50, No. 5, March 2002.
Updated: Dec 2002