Being primary component of the social culture

Being in a university, students are immersed into a completely new environment
where freedom feeds the temptation of drinking and teens desire to fit the carefree
image of youthfulness. Is missing out on alcohol detrimental to the university
experience and youth? Or is the lack of responsibility an unnecessary problem for
society to deal with.
Research conducted at a UK university indicated that both students and other
members of the institution and the public perceived alcohol consumption as a
primary component of the social culture in the university (Penny & Armstrong-Jones,
2010)i
. In an ONS statistical bulletin on adult drinking habits (2017)ii, adult alcohol
consumption was reportedly declining, with the population of teetotallers on the rise.
This being said, consumption is still increasing amongst university students (Davoren
et al., 2016)iii and drinking among youth and young adults, and associated alcoholrelated
injuries are still reported. In the USA, alcohol-related hospital admissions in 18-
24 year olds was at 97.75 per 100,000 individuals (White et al., 20011)iv whilst
approximately 7,000 18-24 year olds between 2013 and 2014 were given alcohol
treatment by NHS England, as reported by Public Health England (2014)v.
Growing up with alcohol.
Research presented in Cox et al. (2006)vi, gives us a good picture on the amount of
alcohol consumed by youths and young adults in the UK. At secondary school level,
students in the youngest age group of 13-14 were reportedly consuming 7.31
alcoholic drinks per week. This increased to between 10.5 and 10.6 alcoholic drinks
per week for 15-18 year olds. It is important to note that although alcohol
consumption in the UK is legal from age 5, it is illegal for under 18s to purchase
alcohol or consume it outside the home. This could be indicative of a major root of
the problem and targeting underage alcohol consumption by educating guardians
on long-term consequences may relieve this. University students consumed a larger
amount of alcohol, averaging 12.5 alcoholic drinks per week.
Also, Cox et al. (2006) reported that younger students discriminated less between
positive and negative problems when asked about their reasons for drinking and
they had yet to establish proper reasons to drink. This may owe to the fact that at an
early age, secondary school students still do not have as much independence,
freedom or maturity as university students and being rebellious, even if it breaks the
law, may be a euphoric experience worth the risk.
Alcohol in the university.
The primary reason for and a good predictor of university drinking is of a social
nature (Gilles, Turk & Fresco, 2006)vii, and a large proportion of this takes places in a
social setting. However, drinking due to stress is also a major contributor (Kuntsche et
al., 2006)viii. The accessibility to cheap alcohol in universities, especially at the
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university bars where pints could cost as little as £1, exacerbates the increased
consumption as low alcohol prices have been shown to correlate with increased
levels of alcoholism (Black et al., 2011)ix. This could also have unprecedented knockon
consequences for the state where there could be costs to public healthcare
systems and for replacement public property damaged by intoxicated people.
Culture
Although we focus on western drinking cultures, it is worth reviewing the culture of
drinking overseas as the trends we are studying may not be representative of other
student drinking cultures.
In US-born Asian American adults, it was found that those who spoke their ethnic
language (and presumably identified better with their ethnic culture) had reported
lower alcohol consumption if their ethnic country was one with lower per capita
alcohol consumption. Similar trends were observed in respondents who came from
countries with higher per capita alcohol consumption (Cook et al., 2012)x. In a
commentary written for Durham University’s student newspaper, the author (who
was an international student) wrote about the discomfort she felt in her university’s
wild and loud drinking-and-getting-drunk culture, again highlighting the fact that
drinking habits may have a larger cultural component than expected.xi
Cultural differences could also account for the regional differences seen in alcohol
consumption in the UK. A report published by The Health and Social Care
Information Centre (2015) indicated that London had a relatively high rate of adults
who abstained from alcoholxii. This could be due to London’s ethnic diversity and
thus, a difference in proportion of cultural attitudes.
It is evident that at a young age, students are willing to explore the boundaries of
drunkenness and intoxication for social acceptance or possibly as a coping
mechanism. However, it is good to recognise the other aspects such as drinking at
home, underage drinking and cultural drinking habits. Identifying and learning from
these alternative aspects could help direct better education in safe alcohol use,
reducing the preventable burden that is often carried by society.