Waterloo Region Record

Universiti­es take aim at binge-drinking by students


Reka Rossignol remembers feeling a mix of frustratio­n and fear while trying to get an incoherent friend back to their dorm after a night of drinking during their first year in university.

Campus security at the school in northern Ontario had just informed them that a bear had been spotted nearby and ordered everyone inside. Rossignol asked for help getting home but was told all security could do was call an ambulance for the young woman who was having trouble staying upright — something neither of the two students wanted.

The pair somehow struggled to their beds but, four years later, the memory of the night has stayed with Rossignol.

Binge drinking at the off-campus party like the one they were at was rampant, pressure to get drunk in the first place was high, and support for those who had too much was hard to come by, said the 23-year-old who uses gender neutral pronouns.

“Everyone was partying on the weekends and everyone was binge drinking,” they said.

“There’s a lot of this toxic kind of culture of having to prove yourself. People want you to prove yourself as being a partier or being a big drinker, and the more booze you can take the cooler you are.”

Research suggests binge drinking among youth, and women in particular, may be on the rise, with a recent study indicating a spike in emergency room visits related to alcohol issues by those groups.

Several universiti­es are tackling the issue by reconsider­ing how they run their orientatio­n week activities, placing harm reduction and an emphasis on students educating students about the risks of binge drinking at the centre of their initiative­s.

At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the school has a dry orientatio­n — or frosh — week, as well as campus security and a first-aid team available around the clock.

Beth Blackett, health promotion co-ordinator at Queen’s, said educationa­l awareness happens at a peer-to-peer level during the week, with upper-year volunteers teaching new students everything from how to maintain a low blood alcohol concentrat­ion to pointers on how to safely pour a standard drink.

“Students, especially, think that others are drinking way more or way more often than they actually are,” said Blackett, who added that students showing other students how to have fun without alcohol can have a positive effect.

Since 1990, the school has also had an on-site non-medical detox facility called the “campus observatio­n room,” which provides a safe place for students under the influence where they can be monitored by staff.

The University of Toronto’s campus in Mississaug­a has dry orientatio­n programs, as well. The school works with student clubs to support them for their events and even pub nights during frosh week are “completely dry,” said Jessica Silver, the director of student engagement on campus.

Research certainly backs up the anecdotal evidence that binge drinking is an issue among young people.

In July, a study published in the Canadian Medical Associatio­n Journal looked at patterns in alcohol-related ER visits in Ontario between 2003 and 2016.

The rate of alcohol-related ER visits spiked by 175 per cent among individual­s aged 25 to 29. The change was even more pronounced among young women, who saw an increase of 240 per cent, the study showed.

Ann Johnston, who authored the book “Drink: The Intimate Relationsh­ip Between Women and Alcohol,” pointed to a shift in cultural norms as an explanatio­n. It’s more acceptable for women to drink than in the past, she said, with the alcohol industry aiming marketing specifical­ly towards women.

A “pinking” of the market since the mid-1990s has seen the increased invention of “alcopop” drinks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Skinnygirl Cocktails and Smirnoff Ice that are typically aimed at young women, Johnston, noted.

 ?? THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Research suggests binge drinking among young adults, and women in particular, may be on the rise.
THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Research suggests binge drinking among young adults, and women in particular, may be on the rise.

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