The National Union of Students has today released the findings of a survey on students’ relationships to alcohol. The survey was completed by 2,215 students in higher education which explores students’ behaviour towards, attitudes to, and perceptions of alcohol use. While this is not a prevalent study, we found alcohol use to be relatively common but many reported not drinking alcohol at all. The survey results also provide insight into the perceptions that students hold in relation to their peers, themselves and alcohol.
2% say they drink most / every day, 23% drink 2-3 days a week
20% get drunk on purpose about once a week, but 21% say they don’t drink (never or have stopped drinking)
60% of those who say it can be difficult not to drink too much (38% overall) say it’s because alcohol helps them to relax / socialise
There’s still a strong association of university life being associated with excessive alcohol consumption - 76% say there’s an expectation for students to drink to get drunk and 79% agree that drinking and getting drunk is part of university culture.
Respondents reported a perception that being a student means heavy drinking - 47% thought that students got drunk most of the time before they started university.
Peer pressure is still seen as an issue for students – 70% think that students drink alcohol to fit in with their peers, but survey respondents feel that this is more of an issue for other students then themselves, with 41% saying they never feel like their friends expect them to drink.
One in ten claim to be aware of safe or responsible drinking campaigns/activities at their university, however only 1% had been part of these campaigns/activities. Although half feel there are enough social events at university that don’t involve drinking, almost a quarter feel there should be more.
It is concerning that university life is still strongly associated with excessive alcohol consumption. More so, many think that others drink to fit in with their peers. There is however an issue of perception over reality, with most thinking it is more of an issue for others rather than themselves.
The success of the Alcohol Impact programme that has been rolled out on many campuses is having a clear and direct impact on reducing the negative impact of harmful levels of alcohol intake. The National Union of Students believes the pressures now facing students financially, particularly in relation to doing well because they have accrued so much debt is also causing the shift in students’ drinking habits.
In the long term we would like to see students offered more choice whatever type of drinker they are. Including quality events and interventions during welcome week and throughout the year to better understand the relationship between students and alcohol.
Some ways to change the negative culture around drinking include specific interventions through good non-alcoholic offerings and diversifying the offer of food and social spaces on campus that aren’t focused on alcohol.
We would encourage students’ unions to join the Alcohol Impact initiative to formalise work in this area and for universities to provide good support systems and services to support people on campus/linking in with their local area.
NUS Vice President (Welfare) Eva Crossan Jory said:
“It is clear that students’ drinking habits have changed with a comparative section of the student population not drinking at all. While many students are making active decisions about their drinking it is concerning that university life is still strongly associated with excessive alcohol consumption. However the reality for many is that high levels of personal debt and the pressure to do well means many are going out less and studying more. The cost of living crisis facing students now also means after bills and food it may not be possible for students to spend on other things such as nights out or drinks.
Unsurprisingly only 1% of students have been part of safe or responsible drinking campaigns at their university. We would encourage institutions and students’ unions to get involved with the Alcohol Impact project to reduce high-risk drinking behaviour. Much effort has been made to give students more choice on the activities open to them particularly during welcome weeks. To ensure that all students are catered for, more inclusive spaces are needed to meet their varying needs.”