Should you be worried about your student son or daughter’s drinking?

beer-toast“University drinking culture concerns me,” says Kara Watkins, a second-year history student at the University of Nottingham. “But we continue to drink because it’s fun, it’s cheap – and to be honest if we weren’t drunk I don’t really know what else we would do.”

For students, alcohol can be as much a part of university life as lectures. Much of student culture – freshers’ week, sports initiations and late nights out – is associated with heavy drinking, right up to a celebratory beverage on graduation day.

So if you’re the parent or friend of a student, how can you tell whether their drinking is just part-and-parcel of the university experience, or if they are drinking alcohol in an unhealthy way? And if you decide it’s the latter, how can you help them?

“Drinking consumes university life,” says Watkins. “Uni club nights aren’t that fun. You pretty much have to be drunk to tolerate the clubs, even the good ones with good music – it’s not an atmosphere where you would want to be sober.”

It is not clear whether students drink more than their non-student peers; while the NHS Choices website states that “studies show that students are more likely to drink, smoke and take drugs than the general population,” research by charity Drink Aware found no difference between students and others of the same age.

But young people are more prone to binge drinking. Evidence from the Office of National Statistics shows that in 2012, 27% of 16- to 24-year-old’s had drunk heavily at least once in the past week – more than any other age group.

Steve Hewish, service manager at Addaction Lincolnshire, says: “Anyone who drinks to excess or in an uncontrolled fashion could be considered to be at risk of forming a dependency on alcohol.”

While alcoholism – where you become physically dependent on alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop – is not something that affects the vast majority of students, many more may be abusive in their use of alcohol.

2010 study of a university and its partner colleges in the East Midlands showed that 51.9% of those surveyed drank alcohol at “hazardous” levels, and 3.6% “drank at levels considered at risk of dependency”. Common signs of alcohol abuse include repeatedly failing to meet responsibilities, such as attending lectures or seminars, because of your drinking. Blacking out and forgetting what happened the night before is also a sign of alcohol misuse.

As a parent, you may not gain much insight into what your child’s life is like at university. But there could be signs of alcohol abuse; if they drink every night when they come home for the holidays, for example. If you are friends with them on Facebook, you might see photos of them acting irresponsibly or dangerously on nights out.

More serious signs include losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed (such as sport or music) because they don’t include alcohol, or being barred from pubs or having involvement with the police due to anti-social behaviour when they drink. Read more “the guardian”…

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