Home > Opinion: Our harmful drinking culture impacts us all – we urgently need to tackle it.

[thejournal.ie] , Davoren, Martin P Opinion: Our harmful drinking culture impacts us all – we urgently need to tackle it. (29 Jan 2015)

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A University College Cork study on hazardous alcohol consumption and third-level students published in the BMJ Open medical journal today, 30 January 2015, has found a high prevalence of hazardous alcohol consumption (66.4%) among the 2,275 undergraduates who responded compared to the general population. Of particular note was a narrowing gender gap – with patterns of hazardous alcohol consumption now similar in men and women (65.2% for men and 67.3% for women). The possibility of adverse consequences increased drastically in tandem with hazardous consumption. 

Below, lead researcher on the study and PhD candidate Martin Davoren explains why we as a nation need to face up to our unsavoury relationship with alcohol and why he feels there is a need for public policy measures as a matter of urgency to counter the short and long-term risks to student health.

I have many memories of aunts and uncles reminding me that ‘school days are the best days of your life’. The trend continued when I went off to university, where my older siblings advised that I ‘make the most of my time in college’.

As I made my way through my four years, the pressure to socialise and conform to a drinking culture was at times relentless. For instance in my final year, cries of ‘this is the last year of Tuesday nights’ and ‘we should make the most of our last year, who knows where we’ll be next year?’ were common and sounded curiously familiar to the pleas of earlier times. Our ingrained culture of unhealthy alcohol consumption in Ireland goes hand in hand with socialising, leading us to drink more and this is not just the case for students or young adults, who are all too often unfairly painted as the only section of Irish society engaging in such behaviour.

Young Irish adults drink more than any other portion of the population

University is a time when many students move out of home for the first time. The excitement of independence can often be coupled with a pressure to conform. The SLAN 2007 report (Survey of Lifestyles, Attitudes & Nutrition in Ireland) has noted that young Irish adults drink more than any other portion of the population. In particular, university students report elevated levels of alcohol consumption. UCC senior management recognised the need to reduce alcohol related harm amongst its students and developed a campus wide health promoting initiative several years ago.

These efforts have seen UCC become a national leader on an issue which impacts across Irish society, winning the Best Public Health Initiative category and the overall award for its work around alcohol at the Irish Healthcare Awards in 2013. However, they were not on their own. Student leadership also championed the move along with several other internal and external stakeholders, such as the Gardaí and local residents’ associations, identifying the risks associated with harmful patterns of alcohol use, and taking practical measures to keep our students safe when they are out at night and reduce the impact on the wider community.

I joined the initiative at UCC tasked with producing reliable data on patterns of alcohol consumption in the student population. Ireland’s most recent comprehensive report on student alcohol was a decade ago.

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