It’s all fun and games, until someone dies from alcohol poisoning.
Last fall, a student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia died after over-indulging. This incident, combined with two alcohol-related deaths at Queen’s University in 2010, prompted a study into the propensity for binge drinking among university and college students.
Lisa Jacobs, researcher for the Nova Scotia department of health and wellness, asserted the death of the Acadia University student was only representative of a much more severe problem.
“One of the reasons we wanted to conduct this research is because we knew this was a much larger problem than just Acadia University,” Jacobs explained. “It’s not only just those extreme cases—alcohol harm comes in many shapes and forms.”
According to Jacobs, universities and colleges are notorious for their drinking cultures. Yet despite this appearing as merely a product of youthful frivolity, she asserted there were a number of contributing factors.
“If you look at the evidence internationally, the highest risk population [for over-consumption of alcohol] are university-aged individuals,” she explained. “Some see it as a rite of passage. They’re leaving home for the first time, all sorts of things are going on that make them want to experiment more.”
Jacobs also noted that the media portrayal of alcohol consumption can play a large role in shaping student ideas of reasonable drinking culture.
“The people you see drinking in advertisements are not the 40 and 50-year-olds, it’s that young, hip university person,” Jacobs said.
Despite it being such a large part of the anticipated university experience, binge drinking provides a bevy of health risks for students, not all related to alcohol’s direct impact on the body.
“We see short term health risks like violence, which is a very big thing, including fights and intimate partner violence,” Melissa Rennison, a public nurse with Middlesex-London Health Unit, said. “We see a lot of risky sexual behaviours from binge drinking as well.”
Yet alcohol poisoning remains MLHU’s primary concern as a health detriment that can arise from binge drinking.
“Binge drinking is a huge problem we have, especially among university and college ages,” Rennison explained. “Alcohol poisoning […] is our number one area where we are concerned, because it can be a life or death situation.”
Contemporary approaches to curbing excessive alcohol consumption within universities have thus far proven ineffective. To combat the student-drinking problem, Jacobs recommended a varied approach.
“One of the main points in our report is that there is no single solution to it,” she explained. “Universities need to work with municipal governments and community partners to look at ways they can collaborate. We’re calling this a comprehensive approach.”
Jacobs stressed the process of changing student propensity for drinking was going to be a lengthy process, one in which the institutions were going to have to include their students in the process.
“It’s going to take a while,” Jacobs concluded. “We’re encouraging universities to take a long term approach and keep students in the conversation.”