Technology & Science

Psychologist asks why campus anti-drinking campaigns fall on deaf ears

University project aims to improve programs to reduce binge drinking.

Drinking and student life are often thought to go hand in hand, but researchers in Alberta want to find out why students sometimes go too far.

Binge drinking has become a concern at the University of Calgary. It's defined as having five or more drinks in a row for men, or four for women, with the intent of becoming drunk.

Rates of binge drinking haven't fallen in the past 10 years, although universities have been trying to get the message out to avoid it.

Research suggests this type of drinking leads to poorer grades, crimes and violence, and can become a health hazard for students.

Shervin Vakili of the department of psychology at the University of Calgary is launching a study to target first-year students, who are the heaviest drinkers.

"Alcohol is a new thing that they can try," said Alyson Woloshyn, a co-ordinator for student life programs on campus. "We try to help them succeed in that transition" to independence at university.

The problem is that first-year students often don't listen to traditional anti-drinking campaigns, said Vakili.

"We have to find what specifically we can use with this population, raise their [awareness], and change their behaviour," he said.

The university has a bar on campus with advertised events. Campus security says on any given night, it may deal with up to 3,000 potentially intoxicated students.

"It can make it frustrating because they're having a harder time understanding and being aware of what you're trying to get them to do," said Keith Uthe of campus security.

Researchers will follow 360 students for two years. Vakili hopes the results will help universities to develop better outreach programs.