Hazardous drinking pervasive amongst college students

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According to new research from New Zealand hazardous drinking is pervasive amongst undergraduate students, it begins in high school and is a public-health concern.

While it is known that college students are more likely to engage in hazardous drinking behaviour than young adults not attending college, little research outside of North America has been conducted on the issue.

The study by researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia examined hazardous drinking among undergraduate students attending the University of Otago and found that binge drinking, as well as related health, social and legal problems - is pervasive.

Dr. Kypros Kypri, senior research fellow at Newcastle University says previous studies in New Zealand, conducted at single universities, suggested a high prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol-related harm and they wanted to ensure that this wasn’t a local phenomenon.

Dr. Jennie Connor, public health physician and senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Otago says the study shows that the “extreme” drinking patterns of university students are very widespread in New Zealand.

Dr. Connor says the feature of New Zealand university students which may differ from other countries is the low proportion of abstainers from alcohol, which suggests being a non-drinker may make a student a relative ‘outsider,’ whereas in colleges with higher proportions of non-drinkers there may be more options for a peer group that doesn’t drink much.”

For the study the researchers compiled web-survey responses from 2,548 undergraduates (1,542 females, 1,006 males) enrolled at five of New Zealand’s eight universities - the students were asked to provide information on drinking patterns and alcohol-related problems during the preceding four weeks, and also complete “drinking diaries” for the preceding seven days.

Dr. Kypri says more than 80% of both men and women reported drinking alcohol in the seven days preceding the survey and 37% reported binge drinking in the seven days preceding the survey.

There was also a high prevalence of alcohol-related problems - 33% of students experienced blackouts in the preceding four weeks.

The risk factors for binge drinking included being younger, starting to drink earlier, being a binge drinker in high school, and living with other students and Dr. Connor says the majority of New Zealand university students, women as well as men, are drinking in a hazardous or harmful way, and this is common.

The drinking was associated with frequent adverse events, including one in 10 students being exposed to a drunk-driving trip during the preceding four weeks and Dr. Kypri says this prevalence of drinking is higher than reported in the USA and Canada.

The researchers recommend that priority status be given to the reduction of binge drinking in high school, given its strong association with later binge drinking and say their finding underlines the need for strategies to prevent and ameliorate drinking problems before young people arrive at university.

In New Zealand the minimum purchase age for alcohol was lowered from 20 to 18 years and has probably made drinking among 15 -17 year-olds worse and therefore the job of universities all the more difficult.”

Dr. Kypri has called for a coordination of effort - by central government, local government, police, health authorities and universities - to reduce the availability and promotion of alcohol on and around campuses.

He also recommends that universities implement early identification systems to address drinking problems among students as early as possible in their university careers and says measures are needed to restrict availability of alcohol to young people through regulation of supply, increasing price, and reducing high levels of alcohol promotion around campuses.

Dr. Connor says the study provides evidence to support giving advice to families about the value of delaying initiation of drinking, becoming aware of the level of exposure young people have to a heavy-drinking peer culture, and how frequent adverse events are.

Dr. Jennie Connor, lecturer in epidemiology at Otago University and research associate with the Injury Prevention Research Unit, says international evidence shows that increasing taxes and raising the purchase age reduces the level of alcohol-related harm.

The research will be published in the February 2009 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.


Hazardous drinking among college students is a public-health concern, often exceeding that found among other young adults who are not attending college. There have been no national studies of this issue, however, outside of North America. This study examined hazardous drinking among undergraduate students in New Zealand, finding that binge drinking - as well as

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