Ellen Desmond asks the students what should be done to tackle UCC’s drinking problem
On the 30th of January UCC released the results of a study entitled Hazardous alcohol consumption among university students in Ireland. The study, led by UCC researcher and PhD candidate Martin Davoren, showed some worrying results and called for “national intervention” to help tackle the issue of problematic drinking behaviours among university students. The results of the study were covered extensively by the media both locally and nationwide.
The Irish Times ran an article with the headline ‘Two-thirds of students report hazardous drinking.’ It was also picked up on by joe.ie, her.ie and breakingnews.ie – to name a few.
Among the most worrying of results that have arisen from the study was that the gender gap has narrowed in terms of hazardous drinking patterns; female students are now drinking as dangerously as their male counterparts.
Studies done in the past have shown a bigger gap between the drinking patterns of males and females and this narrowing difference in behaviour clearly goes to show that as times goes on the problem of worrying alcohol consumption among students is getting much worse and not better, despite UCC introducing a number of initiatives in an attempt to tackle the problem.
Mark Stanton of the UCCSU said in response to the survey: “The results of this study should be seen as a call to action nationally – it is important to remember this isn’t just an issue for UCC students, or students in general. A national conversation needs to take place and students need to be at the heart of the discussion, not the topic of it.”
Other than Stanton’s response, Motley could find no evidence of students being asked their opinion on the matter – or better still – how to tackle it. I sat down with a small group of students to discuss the findings and to see their reactions. They all wished to remain anonymous but were more than open to discussing the matter when approached and agreed that is was a pivotal way to go about dealing with the situation.
Of the three male and three female students who I spoke with, four were drinkers and two were non-drinkers. It was unanimously agreed upon by the group that the results of the study were “unsurprising,” “about right” and even “not half as bad as [they] would have expected.”
One female student who claimed to be an “infrequent drinker” (i.e a binge drinker) said she was surprised about the reaction among the national media and the non-students seeing these results.
“I thought the drink culture in UCC was more than evident and in reality, when you’re living in it, the reality is actually much worse than what these results show. Drinking is what most people’s college day revolves around and it’s very unusual that there’s someone like me, who wouldn’t go drinking every single week, just now and again. The college can fluff up their anti-alcohol attempts to the media all they like to give a good name to the college but the fact is none of the current initiatives are actually any good. They’ve no impact on individuals or pretty much at all, well like, other than gathering data which I guess they need.”
The students all agreed that the University does try to counteract the problem, and were all aware of initiatives like e-PUB and the work of UCC Health Matters in particular. They went so far as to show they respected the attempts and one male even said “fair play to them to be honest” when I told him 13,000 people have taken the e-PUB test over the past 5 years.
The same student, when he had taken e-PUB, said his friends and him compared results and gloated about who was “in the worst situation” in regard to alcohol consumption levels. “It’s probably bad that I wouldn’t give any of it a second thought, though. Don’t really think anyone would,” he said about learning that he and his peers all drank to an unhealthy level. Upon leaving he still didn’t see himself giving it a second thought.
In sum, the initiatives have reached out to students but nothing has hit home with them.
“I know they all say it’s a problem and it’s not good when you need to do work or something the next day and I know there’s always a mess and stuff sometimes… but I’ve never seen anything that worrying happen, even after someone’s been really, like, seriously dangerously drunk. It’s always grand then the day after once they’re sorted out.”
The students also all agreed that national intervention as suggested by the study probably won’t work but that a national discussion probably is needed to find what will work.
“The sponsorship ban thing is totally pointless,” said one male of a suggestion made by the study, “everyone is aware of drink, we’re not kids, hiding branding even just a bit or a lot isn’t going to help anything. It’ll probably make it all more mysterious, or like, something like that, for younger people anyway.”
One of the non-drinkers said peer pressure to drink “was probably, no definitely, a thing,everywhere in Ireland, though, not just here” but she and the male non-drinker both admitted it was not a problem they had encountered much once they explained they just didn’t want to consume alcohol. “Well, except for the classic ‘are you on antibiotics or something’ joke,” the student laughed.
“It’s a question you will get asked though. You’ll be asked all the time why exactly it is that you don’t drink or why you don’t want to do it. It’s not the norm at all to not be drinking, even not drinking on the one night out or as a long term thing. They will be genuinely curious, you know, it’s not all just bad they just don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to. You’re the different one, doing the unusual thing, if you aren’t hammered. Not the one who is plastered off their face asking you about it.”
The group came to the conclusion, without being prompted, that the student body are the ones who have the information, and that they should thus be the ones asked for the solution. They all acknowledged it was a problem and said they were all long aware of it, but the four drinkers left with no intention of changing behaviours or attitudes until they were given a good reason to.