By Mary Chan
Over one-third of university students are "heavy" drinkers, according to a study on undergraduate drug use and alcohol consumption released March 29. The Canadian Campus Survey, released by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, involved 7,800 university students in 16 Canadian universities and was done in fall 1998.
The survey found that 34.8 per cent of students reported drinking eight or more drinks in a single occasion at least once since September.
"The rate of heavy drinking episodes… is fairly noticeable for about one third of the students," said co-author Dr. Edward Adlaf, who works in the Social, Prevention and Health Policy Research department at the centre.
"Certainly they’re a population that has an above average rate of frequent drinking," said Adlaf. "That may put them in greater risk in terms of poor academic performance and increase in the rate of accidents."
Adlaf added that people who don’t drink are also affected by heavy drinkers.
"We’re not only concerned with the impact on the individual, but also the impact on other people who aren’t drinking," he said, citing physical assaults, not being able to sleep due to disturbances or taking care of a friend with a hangover as examples. "There are secondary effects in addition to primary effects."
Director of the Counselling and Student Development Centre Dr. Lee Handy agreed that alcohol was an issue, but added that the University of Calgary campus atmosphere has changed the way it views alcohol.
"[Changes include] the way BSD is handled with more controlled alcohol, education programs with the residences, restrictions on various types of venues, the way alcohol can be served on campus," he said. "There’s been a real decrease in the ability of who will accept being drunk as an excuse for certain behaviour."
Handy believes the survey has value because it encourages people to talk about alcohol abuse on campus, and it gives them a baseline to compare other information with.
"People tend to err on either side [of the line]," he said. "It gives a bit of functional reality in the picture. Instead of people just running on perceptions, it provides a bit of perspective."
According to Adlaf, the centre will "quite likely" do a follow-up survey a few years from now.
"Probably we want to do much more detailed work with the material we have now," he said. "In four or five years, we’ll look for a funder [for a survey] to see if there’s been a change."