October 12, 2010
American students often study abroad for a semester or two to improve foreign language skills or to learn about a different culture. Often times, the experience is rewarding, both personally and academically. However, a recent study from University of Washington researchers showed the negative side of things--American students tend to consume more alcohol while studying abroad.
The study used a longitudinal design to examine the factors associated with alcohol consumption among study abroad college students. "We hear stories in the media and elsewhere about students going abroad, drinking too much and getting into trouble. But no one ever measured this risky drinking behavior and there are no published studies of prevention strategies before they go abroad," said Eric Pedersen, a University of Washington psychology graduate student to UW News.
A sample of 177 students who studied abroad for three to five months completed behavioral questionnaires one month before departing and one month post-return. According to The New Zealand Herald, researchers found that study abroad students doubled their alcohol consumption, from about four drinks per week while at home to about eight drinks per week while abroad. Interestingly, students studying abroad in Europe (i.e. Italy, France) and Oceania (i.e. Australia or New Zealand) drank more heavily than students who went to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East or Africa.
According to UW News, Pedersen said," We can't really say if this is risky drinking or not. This could be a drink a night--a glass of wine at dinner--over the course of a week." However, it could also be an example of binge drinking where students are consuming four drinks on Friday nights and another four drinks on Saturday nights.
Data also showed that students under 21, the legal drinking age in the U.S., often took advantage of more lax drinking laws abroad. While students over 21 doubled their intake, underage students in the study tripled their drinking habits.
Furthermore, Pedersen found that drinking habits abroad may have lasting effects on drinking behavior in general. According to the study, students who drank at heavier levels while abroad continued to drink at significantly higher levels after returning home.
The study noted that "drinking while abroad is a concern warranting further investigation, especially regarding how changes in drinking may contribute to the experience of alcohol-related consequences abroad". According to UW News, Pedersen and his co-authors recommend schools create pre-departure prevention programs that target students who are heavy drinkers or intend to drink heavily while abroad. These programs should address misperceptions about drinking in other countries, including misperceptions of peer drinking habits as well as residents in different countries.
"The study abroad experience presents both unique opportunities and unique risks for students," said Mary Larimer, co-author on the study, director of the Center for the Study of Health & Risk Behaviors and associate director of the UW's Addictive Behaviors Research Center. "Working with these students pre-departure is a terrific opportunity to help reduce their risks for drinking consequences while abroad, and may also help prevent difficulties when they return home."
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Americans getting drunk in NZ," nzherald.co.nz, October 12, 2010
"When in Rome: Factors associated with changes in drinking behavior among American college students studying abroad," Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, September 2010, Eric R. Pedersen, Mary E. Larimer, Christine M. Lee
"When in Rome: Study-abroad students increase alcohol intake," uwnews.org, October 11, 2010, Molly McElroy