This was from a news story in The Guardian back in February looking at whether you should be worried about your student son or daughter’s drinking if they are away at university?
“University drinking culture concerns me,” says Kara Watkins, a second-year history student at the University of Nottingham. “But we continue to drink because it’s fun, it’s cheap – and to be honest if we weren’t drunk I don’t really know what else we would do.”
For students, alcohol can be as much a part of university life as lectures. Much of student culture – freshers’ week, sports initiations and late nights out – is associated with heavy drinking, right up to a celebratory beverage on graduation day.
So if you’re the parent or friend of a student, how can you tell whether their drinking is just part-and-parcel of the university experience, or if they are drinking alcohol in an unhealthy way? And if you decide it’s the latter, how can you help them?
“Drinking consumes university life,” says Watkins. “Uni club nights aren’t that fun. You pretty much have to be drunk to tolerate the clubs, even the good ones with good music – it’s not an atmosphere where you would want to be sober.”
It is not clear whether students drink more than their non-student peers; while the NHS Choices website states that “studies show that students are more likely to drink, smoke and take drugs than the general population,” research by charity Drink Aware found no difference between students and others of the same age.
But young people are more prone to binge drinking. Evidence from the Office of National Statistics shows that in 2012, 27% of 16- to 24-year-old’s had drunk heavily at least once in the past week – more than any other age group.
Steve Hewish, service manager at Addaction Lincolnshire, says: “Anyone who drinks to excess or in an uncontrolled fashion could be considered to be at risk of forming a dependency on alcohol.”
While alcoholism – where you become physically dependent on alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop – is not something that affects the vast majority of students, many more may be abusive in their use of alcohol.
A 2010 study of a university and its partner colleges in the East Midlands showed that 51.9% of those surveyed drank alcohol at “hazardous” levels, and 3.6% “drank at levels considered at risk of dependency”. Common signs of alcohol abuse include repeatedly failing to meet responsibilities, such as attending lectures or seminars, because of your drinking. Blacking out and forgetting what happened the night before is also a sign of alcohol misuse.
As a parent, you may not gain much insight into what your child’s life is like at university. But there could be signs of alcohol abuse; if they drink every night when they come home for the holidays, for example. If you are friends with them on Facebook, you might see photos of them acting irresponsibly or dangerously on nights out.
More serious signs include losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed (such as sport or music) because they don’t include alcohol, or being barred from pubs or having involvement with the police due to anti-social behaviour when they drink.
If you are worried about someone’s drinking, whether it is your child or a friend at university, the first step is to talk to them. Advice from rehab clinic Castle Craig states that you should try and be calm and caring, rather than confrontational, as being judgmental will just make the person defensive and ashamed. Castle Craig also point out that often the first attempt at raising the subject won’t be successful, so it’s worth trying two or three times.
If they recognise that they have been drinking too much, then there are support services available, both within and outside their university. Find out the number of their university advice or counselling service, or suggest they contact their personal tutor if drinking has been affecting their academic performance.
Charities such as Alcohol Concern have advice lines, and there is self-help information available online. Setting clear limits – such as three alcohol-free days a week, and a maximum drinks allowance on the other days – is a good way of introducing structure and control to drinking, if it hasn’t reached the point of dependency.
Student Georgie Robbins went through a period where she relied on drinking. “The only confidence I would get was from drinking. Being drunk was the only time I felt normal.”
She had to leave her course because she had got so behind with her work, but continued to drink and fell out with her friends. “That was when I decided I needed to give it up. I was slowly losing my life. Now I am doing an online course, sharing experiences and feeling a lot healthier.”
- Alcohol Concern helpline: 02075669800.
- Self-help information
Sport and music definitely involved booze in my youth so I’m not sure about that line in the article but otherwise it’s informative 🙂