Background: Binge drinking in young adults at university is a growing problem within Britain (Drink Aware 2009). Students drinking above the recommended safe levels of alcohol are at risk of many associated health problems (RCP 2008). This study used the Office for National Statistics definition of binge drinking: males consuming eight or more units and women consuming six or more units in one session, at least once a week (ONS 2007). The research aimed to explore prevalence of, and reasons and attitudes towards binge drinking within Coventry University under-graduate students, aged 18–24 years.
Methods: A validated tool could not be found for this topic; therefore a confidential questionnaire was developed based on an existing questionnaire (Webb et al.1996). Following a pilot study, a sample of 40 students (20 male and female) was chosen as a practical size to recruit. Students were recruited using purposive – criterion sampling; approached in campus cafes, study areas and computer rooms. Inclusion criteria were under-graduate students, aged 18–24 years. Ethical approval was given by Coventry University Ethics Committee, and participants provided informed consent. Descriptive statistics were collected, calculated manually, analysed and displayed as graphs and tables.
Results: Most (92.5%) students were classed as binge drinkers; most exceeded the weekly guidelines for sensible drinking. Ninety per cent of students were not aware of sensible drinking guidelines and drank larger measures at home in outside venues. The main reasons identified for alcohol intake were to socialise, pleasure, to feel intoxicated, enjoyment of taste, cheap cost of alcohol and student alcohol promotions. Sixty-seven per cent of students felt that the university culture had made binge drinking more acceptable.
Discussion: These results confirmed findings from previous studies; a significant proportion of under-graduates binge drink (Gill 2002). This increases risk of short and long-term health problems, including heart and liver disease, some cancers, pancreatitis and diabetes. The nutritional adequacy of student diets may be impaired by binge drinking. Alcohol in excess has no nutritional benefits; providing ‘empty’ calories that can cause weight gain. The low awareness of government recommendations for alcohol intake indicates that increased awareness is needed i.e. campaigns throughout university campuses. Ceasing alcohol offers targeting students, and events promoting binge drinking behaviour, might prove successful in reducing binge drinking levels.
Conclusions: Increased alcohol awareness is needed within university students. Student attitudes towards alcohol, university culture's influence and alcohol promotions targeting students, are key factors requiring action. The high prevalence of binge drinking provides evidence that these students are at risk of short and long term alcohol related health problems, and nutritional deficiencies.
References: Drink Aware (2009) Students [online] available from <http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-and-you/students> [Accessed on 15 January 2010].
Gill, J. (2002) Reported levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking within the UK undergraduate student population over the last 25 years. Alcohol & Alcoholism3, 109–120.
Office for National Statistics (2007) Health Related Behaviour [online] available from <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=1894&Pos=&ColRank=2&Rank=224> [Accessed on 10 January 2010].
Royal College of Physicians (2008) Alcohol [online] available from <http://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/healthyliving/alcohol.asp> [Accessed on 12 January 2010].
Webb, E., Ashton, C.H., Kelly, P. & Kamali, F. (1996) Alcohol and drug use in UK university students. Lancet 348, 922–925.