Drinking Culture: The impact of binge drinking in a university town

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Drinking and partying have become a distinctive aspect of university and college culture and, with two growing universities in town, Waterloo is swarming with students, some of whom exhibit hazardous drinking patterns.

Binge drinking is typically defined as five drinks or more in a short period of time for a male and four drinks or more for a female. It is often done deliberately, with the intent of intoxication.

According to the Waterloo Region Community Assessment of 2011, undergraduate students are more likely to drink heavily than other students. In Waterloo Region, 19.8 per cent of youth aged 12 and over report binge drinking at least once a month, while 40 per cent of adults aged 20 plus have binge drank at least once in the last year.
Health education and promotion co-ordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University, Marilyn Nieboer explained how the drinking is not necessarily always a problem; however, it is definitely an area of concern.

“Most students don’t get into a problem. They’ve figured out that alcohol is toxic and there is a limit that they can take. There are a few situations where it’s abused and overused and that is a problem. Education and awareness is important,” Nieboer explained.
According to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, in Ontario, 45.1 per cent of post-secondary students exhibit at least one dangerous drinking pattern.

“Drinking has always been in the picture, but the total amount is shocking and frightening,” said Nieboer.
Not all students drink heavily. However, often students are grouped together and work up a negative reputation in relation to partying.

“You hate to say everyone’s doing it because it’s not true. But we do have students hospitalized for alcohol positioning. Are we concerned about that? Very,” said Nieboer.
The director of campus wellness at the University of Waterloo, Mark Beadle, discussed what he described as a common misconception that all students drink excessively.

“Students should be aware that not everybody is drinking. Their perceptions around who’s drinking and who’s not are very skewed,” Beadle explained.
Beadle advises students to change their outlook on alcohol and practice strategies for safe drinking and partying.

“Students should consider, when they’re going to party and do social things, to avoid having alcohol consumption as the main component of the social gathering,” he suggested.
University of Waterloo, similar to many other universities, offers students help through health services with their Drink Wise program if they are having problems abusing alcohol.
The issues surrounding binge drinking in Waterloo are also monitored locally in the community. The Waterloo Regional Police Services deal with various situations and issues, which arise due to excessive abuse of alcohol.

“From a police perspective it is very concerning due to the number of calls we get,” said Andrew Sharen, community resource officer for WRPS.
When dealing with issues of excessive drinking police are often called in, sometimes charging students with public intoxication. In more extreme cases where there is a medical concern, they can be hospitalized in lieu of charges.

Sharen gave some tips for students, or anyone who is going out to drink, and what they can do to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them.

“Use a strategy of moderation, know their limits as far as their tolerances for alcohol, pace themselves. If they find they are exhibiting signs of intoxication, stop and switch to water. Be aware of how their own bodies reacts to alcohol,” advised Sharen.

When it comes to the reputation of the students of Waterloo, which often reflects upon the educational institutions, drinking in moderation is important.

“The minority and the behaviors of the few can paint the student population as a whole and that’s not fair. It is difficult when everyone gets painted with the same brush on a Monday morning,” said Sharen..

However, as dangerous binge drinking patterns and the extreme amounts that are occasionally consumed are worrisome, students should be fully informed of the potential consequences.

“Alcohol can cause death. People don’t seem to think that. We think its fun, but rarely think of the risks associated, there are all sorts of possibilities of regret, ” concluded Nieboer.

In a growing university town the student population is high, and for the safety of all students, and people of the community, it is advised that drinking is carried out safely and in moderation.

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