Student alcohol consumption: Patterns and web-based interventions

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 10 June 2019

Unhealthy alcohol use amongst students is a major health concern. The alcohol consumption of university (i.e. college) students in the USA has been extensively studied. However information on the drinking patterns of students from the UK, and Europe in general, has been less extensively investigated. Therefore we aimed to conduct a series of studies that would investigate the alcohol consumption of UK students. The first study collected data from two cohorts of students over their course of study at a UK university. These findings suggested that student weekly alcohol consumption declined over their degree course but that levels of consumption remained high for a substantial number of students. The second study investigated students’ drinking patterns over the last week. Latent class analysis revealed distinct patterns of consumption. Encouragingly many students had consumption patterns which included either alcohol free or low-alcohol intake days. However the consistently high level of daily consumption by some students was of particular concern. The third study, a randomised control trial, investigated the feasibility and effectiveness of a social norms and personalised feedback web-based intervention for alcohol misuse. The majority of students reported that the feedback provided was useful and the brief intervention was effective in reducing alcohol consumption per occasion. These studies highlight the heterogeneous nature of drinking behaviour within the student population. It is important to note that while some students are drinking at harmful levels, the population also includes a sizeable number (≈10%) of non-drinkers. The finding that a web-based intervention utilising social norms feedback is effective is encouraging especially as this mode of delivery can provide students with tailored feedback without being labour or resource intensive.


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Dr Bridgette Bewick