Social norms and undergraduate drinking: new Concordia study

 New research will analyze the drinking culture among young adults

Drinking in college has become part of the university experience. Many students view alcohol consumption at parties as a rite of passage. 

“Drinking culture around the University is crazy. Students often go drinking, I think most of them do it to forget about the stressors coming from the University,” said Mirella Corso, a first-year finance student at JMSB. 

“I think people use this as a coping mechanism which obviously is not ideal but understandable considering how stressful it is to be a student in this generation,” Corso added. 

Social Norms and Undergraduate Drinking is a study conducted by Dr. Roisin M. O’Connor and the Young Adult and Alcohol Research Laboratory at Concordia that will examine the link between injunctive norms and alcohol consumption among university students. 

Injunctive social norms are behaviours that one is expected to follow and expects others to follow in a given social situation. The goal of Dr. O’Connor’s study is to analyze how people perceive drinking.

Dr. O’Connor’s goal in conducting the study is to better understand and answer the following question: “Why do so many students misuse alcohol?” 

“I am interested in predictors of alcohol use problems, and alcohol use disorder and I’m very interested in kind of transitional periods throughout late adolescence into and through emerging adulthood,” said Dr. O’Connor.

 According to data collected from the 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS), 78.2 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over reported drinking alcohol at least once in the last year. The CTADS also reports the prevalence of past-year drinking in 2017 among young adults of legal drinking age (18-24 years) was 82.3 per cent, and 79.4 per cent for adults age 25 or older.

The Social Norms and Undergraduate Drinking study is a longitudinal study, meaning it will involve repeated observations over a given period of time. Involving repeated observations over a given period of time, the first phase will gather data from eight to ten online surveys from first-year students and will investigate drinking perception and behaviours. 

The study will follow students throughout their undergraduate degree and track their drinking patterns, their norms, their injunctive norms, their perceptions and how these factors will change throughout their time at university. 

“How do these perceptions align with changes in our drinking behaviour? And who are the people that know when they shift out of university, also are shifting out, maturing out of potential heavy drinking,” said Dr. O’Connor. 

The second phase is the longitudinal study, where Dr. O’Connor and the team will evaluate how students’ perceptions and social norms will predict alcohol use. 

“We’re always looking to how our research can inform interventions or prevention programs. So when we learn about what puts people at risk, then it helps us better target our interventions and our prevention programs,” said Dr. O’Connor. 

Among the graduate students working with Dr. O’Connor is Charlotte Corran, a PhD student in the clinical psychology program.

Corran’s dissertation focuses on the relationship between anxiety and alcohol consumption. Her research will study anxiety sensitivity in drinking, the fear of experiencing anxious symptoms, and the fear that it will lead to negative consequences. 

Corran will analyze how young adults experiencing anxiety sensitivity are prone to lean towards risky drinking due to peer pressure. 

“I was particularly interested in this study, kind of for that social aspect and we know that young adults are [in] a period in development where we care a lot about what our friends and peers think. So I figured it was probably having an impact on drinking,” said Corran. 


Knowing when to skip the damn party

University lifestyles often promote binge drinking, but how do we know when to stop?

In April 2017, I made the decision to take a break from partying. No more frantically clearing my schedule for an event in fear of missing out (FOMO). No more rushing to clubs at midnight, hoping to meet someone special on the dance floor. No more anxious cab rides holding in a queasy stomach. No more making excuses for an activity I never really enjoyed.

Of course, it took me years to realize I don’t actually like partying. I used to be one of those people who hyped my friends up; I’d hear an electronic dance music song on the radio during the day and remember a time the DJ dropped it at 2 a.m. Immediately, I’d get this overwhelming itch to gather everyone I knew on any dance floor. Oh, and to drink half a bottle of spiced rum by myself.

This was until the day I finally accepted that this behaviour was squeezing the life out of me. From anxiety to disappointment, the majority of my nights always drifted into gloom. I mean, sure, there were those exceptional moments of hilarity, hype or authentic conversation that made me think going out that night was worth it. Those exceptions kept me coming back for more and, ultimately, had me romanticizing a toxic lifestyle.

Partying is an integral activity in university culture, and for many, it’s a source of freedom. However, that’s not always the case. How could it be, when alcohol is a depressant, clubs are loud and crowded, and drunk actions are typically frivolous and forgotten? For old souls, pouring time and energy into a lifestyle that provides fleeting satisfaction is more draining than fulfilling.

If you’re constantly making excuses for the negative emotions you experience during or after a night out, I urge you to take a step back from partying. Don’t overlook your feelings in the name of being “hungover,” or thinking that you’re simply “too sensitive.” Don’t blame a bad night on logistics, like a cheap venue or crappy weather—it’s quite possible that, like me, partying just doesn’t cut it for you.

One great way to assess whether you should party less is to make a list of your top 10 life memories—moments you remember fondly and would relive in a heartbeat. How many of them happened during a night of binge drinking? If the answer is less than five, I’d say party in moderation; that list is proof you won’t be missing out.

If you’re still unsure, consider this: in 2014, a study about drinking habits around the world found there’s a whole slew of millennials who don’t actually enjoy binge drinking; and no, it’s not because they’re under some repressive religious or political regime. I’m talking about countries like France, Italy, Spain—places plenty of North American millennials dream of visiting. In these cultures, the majority of university students actually think drunkenness kind of sucks. The nausea, irreversible texts and embarrassing mishaps all make the idea of losing inhibition much less appealing. These millennials don’t owe each other explanations as to why they’re not overdoing it. They’re free to go to the party without actually partying.

How does one do that, you ask? Well, here are a few tips: don’t stay out too late. Drink less. Go out with people who like you when you’re sober; go out with people you like sober. And before going anywhere, ask yourself why you’re going. If FOMO is the reason, just skip the damn party.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin



Why glorifying drinking isn’t fair to either sex

Regional campaign in York, Ont., paints an overly simplistic picture of alcohol

You’ve cut the tag off your new black dress, curled your hair, paid your Uber driver and finally got past the bouncers in front of the club. Now, all that’s left to do is wait for “prince charming” to buy you the cosmopolitan you’ve been craving all week.

From song lyrics telling us to be on our worst behaviour to Hollywood blockbusters painting alcohol as the cure to a boring existence, pop culture wants us to believe the best nights of our lives are the ones we don’t remember. Partying is labelled as the defining element

of our youth.

Infatuated by the ideas of only living once and the fear of missing out, it’s no wonder so many of us perform the role of partiers willingly. We must be confident, bold and loose—and not just with each other, but with our drinks too.

According to the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, women are generally more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than men for a variety of reasons, including less overall body weight and more fat tissue.

These facts prompted the regional municipality of York, in southern Ontario, to launch a campaign against binge drinking at the end of August, right before frosh week. While this seems like a good idea, many felt the campaign was inherently sexist.

The campaign’s poster depicts a young woman staring at her cellphone in horror alongside the slogan, “Don’t try to keep up with the guys.” At the bottom of the poster, the line reads: “It’s not just about keeping an eye on your drink, but how much you drink.” While done with good intentions, it is a message that shames, guilts and blames women.

The campaign was heavily criticized for suggesting women are at fault for their own victimization. Emphasizing the idea that women must control their drinking insinuates women can prevent bad things from happening to them so long as they don’t drink too much.

As a young woman, I found the ad problematic but not for the reason it came under fire. Yes, perpetuating the myth that drunk women are “asking for it” is undoubtedly problematic and wrong. Nonetheless, I appreciated that someone at least tried to expose the pressure women feel to live up to binge drinking standards.

What disappointed me about this ad was how it completely failed to communicate that this pressure is not put on us by men, but by the media.

By focusing on sex alone, the ad ignores critical factors which impact a person’s drinking habits—what age they started, how often they drink, if they’re drinking on a full stomach. None of these considerations have anything to do with sex, yet they have everything to do with a person’s susceptibility to alcohol.

Both the media and the York ad campaign paint overly simplistic portrayals of alcohol. Cultural media, like television, music videos and song lyrics, paint binge drinking as an amazing escape. But being drunk doesn’t guarantee that you’ll feel bold or happy. In reality, being drunk triggers different responses, ranging from euphoria to depression. The ad campaign fails to communicate this, and instead paints binge drinking as a problem rooted in biology.

Even from a biological standpoint, though, the ad completely misses the point. I guess its creators forgot that tall women exist. Being 5-10 myself, I can attest to the fact that some women are able to take in more alcohol than “the guys” before ever feeling a thing.

The York campaign is problematic because it assumes that binge drinking is a pressure felt only by women. In reality, binge drinking is a pressure placed on both sexes by media which glamorizes the effects of alcohol. Pop culture places binge drinking on a pedestal. We are taught to praise alcohol for its ability to make us “go with the flow.” What many fail to realize, however, is that the media’s glamorization of alcohol instills pressures on us to behave in gender-specific ways. The stereotypical view perpetuated by mass media is that binge drinking is bold, confident and expected. Saying no is weak, boring and odd. These stereotypes apply whether you are male or female.

I believe the success of a responsible drinking campaign lies in exposing one very simple truth: the media profits off our compliance to gender stereotypes in nightlife culture. It’s up to us to reject the myth that masculinity and femininity are measured by how much you can or can’t drink.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the organization that created the binge drinking campaign. The campaign was launched by the regional municipality of York. The Concordian regrets the error.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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