Young people at university are more likely to consume alcohol at harmful levels than their same-age peers who are not at university, and harmful alcohol use affects many aspects of campus life. This study aimed to investigate alcohol use and alcohol-related harms, both experienced and witnessed, among students at an Australian university. An online survey of 603 students aged 18-24 years revealed that almost half drank at harmful or hazardous levels and two-thirds had experienced harm from their own alcohol use. Greater harm, experienced and witnessed, was most strongly related to level of alcohol consumption, but also more prevalent among males, those who were first-year students, living on campus, or had come to university from a rural area, and those who were not international students. The results suggest first-year males living on campus from rural and regional Australian backgrounds are an important target group for alcohol reduction and safety campaigns.
Compared with young people in general, of the same age, it is estimated that university students are more likely to drink at harmful and hazardous levels (Kypri et al. 2002). Several studies have reported the high prevalence of excessive drinking among tertiary populations in Australia and New Zealand. For example, a study of more than 7,000 university students from Western Australia found that close to half (48%) had exceeded the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) thresholds for acute harm at least once in the past four weeks and 36% of females and 51% of males scored eight or more on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) meaning that they were drinking at hazardous/harmful levels (Kypri 2007; Kypri et al. 2009). In New Zealand, 63% of 1,564 students randomly selected from a university met the criteria for hazardous/harmful drinking (Kypri & Stephenson 2005), as did 61% of 975 students who were screened for alcohol use while attending a healthcare service at an Australian university (Kypri et al. 2008). The high prevalence of excessive drinking among university students has also been demonstrated in the United States (Ham & Hope 2003) and the United Kingdom (Gill 2002; McAlaney & McMahon 2007).
Excessive alcohol use is associated with a range of harms that can be a result of one's own alcohol consumption or exposure to the behaviour of others who have consumed alcohol. Results from a 2001 study of NSW university students revealed that 28% reported having experienced some form of serious personal problem in the previous year due to alcohol or other drugs, including unwanted sexual intercourse, forced sexual touching or fondling, actual physical violence or threats of physical violence (NSW Health 2002). The most commonly experienced harms were, however, less serious in nature, and included having a hangover (64%), vomiting (54%), and having done something which they regretted (40%). In a New Zealand study, 11% of females and 15% of males reported having unprotected sex in the previous three months as a result of their drinking, and 16% of females and 19% of males had sex they later regretted...
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