UK Students Underestimate Alcohol Consumption

When students leave for college, they often have the impression that partying is a central part of campus life. They may expect that their weekends will be spent drinking and enjoying a busy social scene.

What concerns some government officials in the United Kingdom, however, is that students may be perpetuating irresponsible behavior in their drinking habits. While the government provides information about what constitutes a standard drink, few students are aware of the measurements. This can lead to problems, because often students are learning their alcohol consumption habits from other students.

A new study appearing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review shows that students are not informed about responsible consumption of alcohol. The study revealed that students are not aware of government guides for safely drinking alcohol.

The study was led by Richard de Visser, PhD, from the University of Sussex. Visser and colleagues investigated the knowledge and use of government guidelines for safe drinking among college students and secondary school students.

The researchers recruited 309 secondary school students in addition to 125 college students at schools in England. The participants were asked to complete a survey measuring their knowledge as well as their beliefs about alcohol consumption.

The college students were also asked to report on alcohol consumption while participating in tasks requiring them to pour their own drinks, according to their usual habits. They were also asked to pour their drinks according to the government regulations. The task also included pouring drinks according to government guides for a maximum consumption based on weekly and daily drinking.

The respondents generally lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to drink according to government requirements. The “usual” drinks poured by the participants proved to be significantly over the unit amount set forth by the government. Participants were also likely to underestimate the alcohol content of the drinks they had poured.

In five of seven measurements of guidelines and knowledge of government requirements, less than half of the participants were able to provide correct answers. While the college students were much more likely to provide accurate estimates when compared with secondary school students, approximately one-quarter of the estimates were inside plus or minus 10 percent of the alcohol content of the drink.

Approximately 52 percent of secondary school students provided an underestimate of the alcohol in a drink while 65 percent of college students underestimated the alcohol content. The authors of the study note that the results highlight the possible inaccuracies in measuring the effects of alcohol levels. Because the unit of alcohol is not recognized and understood by students, a need might be there for more education in the schools to encourage healthy alcohol use. In order to fully understand the health effects of alcohol, there must be a broader understanding of alcohol measurement among the public.