It has come to be a part of the
ingrained culture at Universities. Alcohol consumption begins even before
classes start for the year. This time is known as the infamous “frosh week”
which involves activities such as pub crawls, keg parties, and excessive drinking.

One of the largest risks associated with this time of year, is that it
encourages underage drinking. Most of the students that enter into University
in their first year are 18 years old, which is a year below the legal drinking
age in Canada. It is important to recognize that many of these individuals may
have only consumed a few or no alcoholic beverages in their lives. Getting
thrown into frosh week as a first year student is basically asking to get
admitted to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. As scary as that is, it has
become a reality that during ‘welcome’ week at Universities, underage students
face pressure like never before to drink alcohol. Not only to drink it, but to
drink it in high enough quantities that they fit in with the culture that is,
literally, intoxicating.

The
university population is highly vulnerable to alcohol consumption due to the
ease of buying it, the availability of consumption situations, and the lack of
parental control. There is no escaping alcohol consumption in a university
city, it occurs in residences, houses, bars, and even the streets of campus. 25% of graduating high school seniors engage in
heavy episodic drinking, but that rate increases to 40% following graduation
and remains stable through age 24 1. Approximately 90
percent of Canadian university students admit to drinking alcohol, while 32%
reported drinking heavily at least once a month citation. Heavy drinking is
defined as consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion, 12 or more times over
the past year 4. Furthermore,
alcohol use is also highly clinically problematic during this period. Risk for
the onset of alcohol dependence peaks at age 18 years 2.  Moreover, alcohol use disorders are more
prevalent among emerging and young adults than among any other age group. In
young people, the negative effects deriving from alcohol consumption often
involve changes in the relationship with family, peers and teachers, poor
school performance, aggression, crime, public disorder and high-risk behaviors,
such as drinking and driving, as well as unprotected sexual activities,
involving unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases 3.

The
negative effects associated with alcohol consumption in a university city are
undeniably prevalent. An important question to be considered, is the reasoning
behind why so many students partake in its consumption.  A study looked at the reasons for drinking in
university populations which looked at coping strategies, alcohol expectancies,
and personality traits that predict binge drinking 5. Escape drinking (the
use of alcohol to escape reality) was determined to be the sole predictor associated
with binge drinking in university. Social drinking predicted the alcohol
consumption and thus proved to be an indirect influence on binge drinking 5. Due
to the fact that escape drinking is one of the main causes of alcohol
consumption, this could be used as a guide for university’s to lower their
drinking rates. The reality is that students are under constant pressure in university,
as many are juggling the battles of school, a social life, finances and a
healthy lifestyle. These pressures all add up, which has led to what is now
known as the ‘mental health pandemic’. Mental health issues are increasing in
severity and prevalence on university campuses, a staggering 63% of students in
a University study reported stress, anxiety, or depression 6. A major survey
of Ontario students that was done by the American College Health Association
found that between 2013 and 2016, there was a 50% increase in anxiety, a 47%
increase in depression and an 86% increase in substance abuse, which proves
that mental health and substance use are interrelated 7. There is a dramatic
increase in demand for mental health services in university, which means that
the costs associated with meeting this demand has also increased.  Improving adolescent mental well-being among
students could be a potential way to indirectly decrease alcohol consumption
rates. Increasing budgets for mental health services on campuses, providing
more counsellors and psychiatrists, and considering academic accommodations for
these students could drastically decrease the amount of students that turn to
substance use to escape these pressures.

There
is a triad of substance use that refers to all of the factors involved in what
can lead to dependence. It involves the pharmacological effect of the drug, the
personality set of the user, and the social setting in which the drug is
consumed 8. The social setting in which alcohol is consumed is the only aspect
out of the three that can be altered by university policy. No
mild intervention, such as a public awareness campaign, or presentation is going
to influence the way that university students consume alcohol. There needs to
be a comprehensive approach that changes the culture. It is equally as
important to manage the negative outcomes that occur when students consume
alcohol as it is to try and prevent excessive drinking. Building upon this
idea, some Canadian universities have implemented a ‘safe zone’ in which
students that are too intoxicated can be treated and taken care of for the
night. At Queen’s University, it is known as the Campus Observation Room (COR) which
is a friendly and safe place in which students who have had too much to drink
can sleep it off 9. This is part of a harm-reduction program aimed at
reducing the risk of alcohol related injury by assessing and monitoring
intoxicated students9.

In order to reduce alcohol-related
problems within university cities, new policies need to be created. For
example, Queen’s
banned alcohol in its residences during orientation week, reduced the volume of
alcohol that of-age students are allowed to have in residence and banned alcohol
in residences’ common areas 10. This would ultimately decrease the amount of
alcohol consumption, especially in the underage group. However, in order for
major change to come about, there not only has to be implemented policies within residences, there
needs to be engagement on campus and local bars, involving working with the community
and government to implement real change.