It could hardly have been news to most people that university students are some of Australia’s biggest drinkers. Getting drunk, excessively and repeatedly, has long been considered a coming-of-age-thing, a rite of passage for young people as they explore their newfound freedom.
But isn’t it time we stopped regarding these years with fond nostalgia, or any kind of indulgence whatsoever, and admit that Australia has a massive drinking problem?
Friday’s report about a new campaign aimed at changing perceptions about student drinking contains some sobering - for want of a better word - findings about the kinds of behaviour students think is normal and appropriate when it comes to alcohol.
A survey of first-year university students in Canberra found that the vast majority - 80 per cent- who drink did so to get drunk, with almost a quarter doing so at least once a week. Disturbingly, more than 63 per cent of them felt comfortable with how much alcohol they consumed.
Chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education Michael Thorn said it was the visibility of drunken behaviour that gave students a distorted view of heavy drinking - both their own and that of their peers.
“Behaviour associated with binge-drinking is often highly visible, giving students the impression that this sort of behaviour is ‘normal’ at uni,” he said.
But it’s not just university students who need to take a long hard look at their own drinking habits.
Last month, one of the largest-ever studies on global alcohol consumption was published, and its main finding should have been enough to sober us all up fast.
The more you drink, the higher your risk, the study says. Heavy drinkers shave years off their lifespan. But it’s what constitutes acceptable amounts that needs to change. The study found that six glasses of wine or cans of beer a week should be the limit for a healthy lifespan. That’s considerably less than the number recommended in Australia’s official health guidelines.
Aside from the number of years that can be shaved of a person’s life expectancy with every excess drink, another disturbing finding, this time from a survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, that almost one in five Australians aged over 14 drinks more than two standard drinks of alcohol a day - about 3.4 million people.
It seems clear that in Australia, at least, drinking to excess is a learned behaviour, and an integral part of university life. University is also where many learn some of the most important of life’s lessons. The first step to solving a problem is to admit there is one. It's time many Australians had a more honest conversation about their relationship with alcohol.