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Communities To Take Action On Student Drinking

Universities And Communities Challenged To Take Action On Student Drinking

Drinking is intrinsic to the student culture and a more defining feature of tertiary study than academic work itself, says a just released paper on alcohol use among tertiary students.

The paper released today by the National Task Force on Tertiary Student Drinking quotes recent New Zealand research indicating levels of hazardous drinking by students are greater than that of their non-student peers.

The paper says alcohol is ingrained in New Zealand’s tertiary education system. High rates of drinking are said to be due to the peer nature of the tertiary education culture – “alcohol allows you to fit in; the need to prove masculinity and adulthood; the high levels of unstructured free time available; and the promotion of alcohol to students.”

The Task Force was set up by the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) and has representation from the New Zealand University Students Association, universities, halls of residences, student health centres, health groups and researchers.

In late 2003 the Task Force commissioned research into the international and New Zealand literature on tertiary education students, their attitude to and use of alcohol, and tertiary education institutions’ strategies for reducing alcohol-related harm.

The resulting paper released today brings together that research, and it is hoped will inform organisations with an interest or involvement in tertiary students alcohol use and related problems.

The paper says a combination of strategies is the most effective means to reduce alcohol-related harm among tertiary students.

Reducing the availability of alcohol on campus; reducing alcohol outlet density near campuses; and promoting host responsibility strategies are among the measures suggested.

Other measures include supporting treatment and prevention services in implementing opportunistic brief interventions; using alcohol sponsorship on campus for safe-drinking programmes; and encouraging a ‘health promoting campus’ approach.

Not all students drink alike – there are differences noted between students in Halls or Residences, those in flats and those who live at home. There are differences between men and women’s drinking and between non-Maori and Maori. There may also be differences between universities – data is only available for Waikato, Otago and Victoria Universities.

To reduce alcohol-related harm, the taskforce recommends targeting not only individuals but also the student body as a whole, the university itself and the surrounding community.

“Hazardous drinking by young people can lead to - drink driving, unprotected sex, loss of money, family problems, physical injury, violence, and academic difficulties,” says ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy.

“Preventing these kind of outcomes is one of the reasons why we are interested in working with students. What we are aiming for is to work with universities and student organisations to develop university alcohol policies and intervention approaches among New Zealand tertiary students.”

Dr MacAvoy says the paper describes alcohol use and associated harms from four studies carried out in New Zealand and draws on research from other countries to suggest policies and programmes that tertiary institutes and other sectors can introduce to reduce this harm.

“It will be used to inform the activities of the Taskforce and provide motivation and support to other agencies to take a proactive approach to better manage the increased risk of hazardous drinking of young people attending tertiary educational institutions.”

Andrew Kirton, co-president of the NZ University Students Association (NZUSA) and member of the task force, speaking at the NZUSA conference today in Dunedin, says he hopes that this report will encourage university, polytechnic and other tertiary institute administrators, student health services, organisers of events for students, health groups and not just student associations to carefully consider what they can do to reduce alcohol-related harm among students.

The report is available from

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