Alcohol & Alcoholism Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 109–120, 2002
REPORTED LEVELS OF ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND BINGE DRINKING WITHIN THE UK UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT POPULATION OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS JAN S. GILL
Department of Occupational Therapy and Art Therapy, Queen Margaret University College, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 8HX, UK (Received 4 July 2001; in revised form 24 August 2001; accepted 28 September 2001) Abstract — Results of a literature review of 18 studies investigating the drinking behaviour of undergraduate students at UK universities over a period of 25 years are presented. While comparison between studies is complicated by inconsistencies in the terms employed to describe drinking behaviour, it is concluded that significant numbers of both male and female students are reported to exceed sensible weekly consumption guidelines. Recorded levels of binge drinking among both female and male students are extremely variable between studies. Further research is needed to clarify this position. However, if the most recent research evidence is substantiated, female and male binge drinking levels may exceed those of their peers in the general population and their US counterparts. The reported ramifications of harmful drinking for the health and well-being of students are reviewed. A possible link between poor academic performance and alcohol consumption appears tenuous and merits further investigation. Evidence relevant to the view that the drinking behaviour of female students is changing is considered.
Norman et al. (1998) recruited students following a personal approach by a researcher. However, although undergraduate
students in all 5 years of study have been investigated, there was generally greater representation of the earlier years.
Several studies reported within the last decade have examined the drinking behaviour of adolescents and young adults. UK
teenagers are characterized by high levels of intoxication and binge drinking (identified as more than five drinks consumed in a row), when compared with their European counterparts
(Hibell et al., 2001). Recent evidence suggests that these
high levels are being maintained but, significantly, have not increased further (Miller and Plant, 2001).
Drinking behaviour among another group of young adults,
namely college students, has been studied extensively within the USA. Wechsler et al. (1998) stated that ‘binge drinking is by far the single most serious public health problem confronting American colleges’ (p. 57). It is the purpose of this review to consider studies which have monitored the drinking behaviour of undergraduate students within the UK. Particular focus will be given to reported levels of drinking in excess of health
guidelines, ‘binge’ drinking, and its consequence, ‘heavy’ or high risk drinking, and female drinking behaviour.
Methods and procedures of assessment of drinking behaviour
Drinking behaviour has been recorded by a variety of
methods. Delk and Meilman (1996) employed a validated questionnaire; the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey. Orford et al. (1974), Brown and Gunn (1977), Leavy and Alexander (1992)
and Williams and Clark (1998) favoured quantity–frequency
questionnaires. The time frame selected for investigation
differs; Orford et al. (1974) favoured 1 year, whereas Brown and Gunn (1977) studied 1 week. Norman et al. (1998) and
West et al. (1990) reported ‘average weekly’ consumption. Retrospective diaries were analysed by Anderson (1984) for a 4-day period (but these were distributed either on a Friday or a Monday). Collier and Beales (1989), Ghodse and Howse
(1994) and Underwood and Fox (2000) investigated consumption ‘last week’ and on a ‘typical week’. File et al. (1994) adopted a similar format but questions relating to alcohol
consumption were within a questionnaire investigating diet,
health etc. — a format which may yield more reliable
estimates of alcohol consumption (King, 1994).
Ashton and Kamali...
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