It is a fact that Australia ranks among the top dozen countries for alcohol abuse, with the average Australian drinking 12.2 litres of pure alcohol a year, according to the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014. The binge drinking culture that is prevalent in university is thought to be part of the problem. Young people at university are often peer pressured into drinking and tend to feel like they need to consume alcohol in order to make friends and socialise.
I spent my second year of university in one of Australia’s oldest university colleges. One of the many rites of passage was to play officially sanctioned drinking games and the one that stands out in my memory was the boat race (Beer On A Table Race). This was a drinking game that was usually played between two teams of equal numbers, usually the older students versus the newbies or ‘freshers’. The game features in the 2006 Broken Lizard movie, ‘Beerfest’.
My recollection was that the race begins with all competitors placing their drinks on a table. Someone blew a whistle, signalling that the first drinker on each team is allowed to pick up their drink and begin drinking. Once it was consumed, the drinker had to invert the empty cup on their head. This was done to ensure no cheating occurred.
The next teammate was not permitted to touch his drink until this has occurred. Empty cups had to be kept on the competitors’ heads until the race was over.There was a widespread belief amongst my fellow students that it was okay to drink excessively while at university because “it’s only a few years of your life” and once university ended, so would the harmful drinking habits.
However, with alcohol accounting for 65,000 hospital admissions and over 3,000 deaths each year in Australia, and the clear link between alcohol and domestic violence, the current rates of binge drinking at university should be a cause for concern within the community.While in my day, there were zero attempts to address this issue, today many universities do require students to watch educational videos or take online quizzes about appropriate alcohol use.
A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology a few years ago shows that these one-time interventions do work, but their effect tends to wear off as the year progresses. The study combined data collected from three previous alcohol intervention studies and analysed the drinking behaviours of over 1,000 university students who had been through some sort of alcohol education program. Some of the students took an online course either at home or in a lab, while others received in-person education.
A month later, 82 percent of the students reported drinking less, regardless of the type of alcohol education they had. But 12 months later, 84 percent had increased their drinking — often to dangerous levels.The alcohol education programs were more effective for some students than others. The courses worked especially well for women, and for younger, inexperienced drinkers. But for about 10 percent of the students — mostly men the courses had no effect.
But the study highlights something that the Family Peace Foundation believes is crucial if we are to reduce alcohol-related domestic violence, namely the need to find more ways to keep reminding our teenagers that if they do drink, they should be aware of their limits, pace themselves and stay hydrated, we need to remind all family members that people can still have fun and consume alcohol without hurting themselves others.
I don’t know how many of my old college acquaintances went on to develop problems with alcohol, I just know that there was no education on harm minimisation and am grateful that many colleges have now at last seen the light. For families, the message is clear talk often and early about alcohol. If you need some conversation starters, go to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s website: www.theothertalk.org.au