Not so responsible? The impact of others’drinking behaviours: students aged 16-24 in Southern England

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Aim: To ascertain young adult students’ experience of the alcohol-related collateral harms (ARC harms) that people who misuse alcohol cause to others around them.  To characterise and reflect on the aetiology of ARC harm for this young adult population, through collecting and systematically interpreting empirical quantitative and qualitative evidence.

Method: An on-line survey collected data from A-level students and undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 16-24 (N=450) in Southern England.  Semi-structured interviews with a sample (N=25) of survey participants generated qualitative data.  Statistical and thematic analysis were used to understand students’ experience of ARC harm and the precipitating environments and behaviours.

Findings: 64% of participants experienced ARC harm, including 50% of non-drinkers.  The data suggest a significant increase in the risk of ARC harm for participants after the age of 18, at the transition point of leaving the parental home and entering university life.  ARC harms were associated with being female and being influenced by others’ drinking.  Using qualitative descriptors, the ARC harms reported were classified into a novel taxonomy to characterise ARC harm and themes were identified.

Conclusions: A high level of ARC harm was reported and experience of ARC harm was linked to a number of predictors. Drinkers and non-drinkers experience ARC harms and ARC harms were not associated with the quantity of alcohol consumed.  Young women experienced higher levels of ARC harm and at a younger age. Normative behaviours, student life, and expectations of it, and the university milieu present an environment where ARC harms flourish.

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Briony Enser