Drinkers reach the parts others do not reach

February 24, 1995

The key part played by alcohol in the lives of first-year students has been highlighted by research showing non-drinkers have the most problems settling into university.

A study at Hull and Essex Universities found that abstainers and very light drinkers among 1,356 freshers were those most likely to feel isolated from their fellow students.

But Hull psychology research student Tamsin Black does not want her findings to be interpreted as a call to the bar.

"I certainly don't want to encourage people to take up drinking," said Ms Black.

"Universities and student unions should recognise different lifestyles of freshers and provide opportunities for all of them."

She surveyed students both before they arrived at university and during the sixth week of term. Just 6 per cent could be said to be very light or non-drinkers, with the majority classed as typical drinkers and 9 per cent clearly heavier drinkers who imbibed daily, often intending to get drunk.

"The heavier and regular drinkers, who made up 94 per cent of the young people, showed a decrease in loneliness when they came to university," said Ms Black.

"But this benefit of moving to university was not shown by the non and very light drinkers. They felt less that they belonged."

Ms Black's research also challenges a popular myth that wayward drinking tendencies begin at college.

"Looking at the sample as a whole, there was a general increase in drinking when they came to university," she said.

"However the heavier drinking students were already drinking more than average before coming to university.

"I think the results suggest that patterns of individual drinking are already established before university."

She suggested this finding could be used to enable sensible drinking messages to be targeted at pre-university level, where drinking habits begin.

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