February 6, 2019

Surviving o-week

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If you’re getting set to hit uni for the first time, read on for some tips on surviving O-Week. While this time of year signals a new start, many social events during the week also encourage ‘binge drinking’*. The good news is that you can balance socialising with setting good personal limits so that your start to uni is fun, memorable and safe.

University drinking culture

If you are a young person who regularly drinks, there are probably many reasons why you choose to do so. Some motives for drinking may be for social acceptance or the perception that alcohol can ease social interactions.1 However, it’s also important to remember that ‘binge drinking’ is linked to impulsivity, where acting without thinking or inhibiting your behaviour occurs.2

Overall, young people are drinking less than previous generations. However, they’re still more likely to drink at levels that place them at risk of harm,3 and research indicates drinking among university students remains higher compared to young people who are not completing tertiary education.4 At some universities, a ‘binge drinking’ culture appears to be a dominant part of the student experience.5

Universities are often close to pubs and bars, and many have on-campus licensed venues.5 This easy access to alcohol and the uni drinking culture has been linked to attitudes that ‘normalise excessive consumption'.5

Yet many students celebrating O-Week still moderate their drinking or choose to not drink at all.

Avoiding drinking harms

Resilience is a person’s ability to navigate and positively adapt to adversity by having effective coping skills, social support and a belief in oneself.1 Practising personal resilience in a university ‘binge drinking’ culture could mean you avoid ‘binge drinking’, or choose to not drink at all.1

Although there hasn’t been a lot of research on why some young people choose to moderate their drinking, or choose to not drink at all, one study investigated the positive ways in which young people adapted their behaviour in drinking contexts.1

These individuals aimed to create a balance between enjoyment and restraint to maintain their well-being by:

  • knowing how much to drink for enjoyment without becoming intoxicated
  • moderating drinking to maintain control and avoid feeling unwell
  • valuing friendships based on authenticity rather than through social connections created through drinking alcohol
  • being confident in themselves and refraining from behaviour that is not in line with an authentic self
  • making free choices without influence or pressure from others
  • enjoying social occasions without the need to drink alcohol to facilitate fun
  • wanting to feel secure and safe while still having a good time.1

Changing the drinking culture

While the healthiest option is to not drink at all, engaging in low-risk drinking practices may be a positive and realistic option.1 Making positive choices, developing your strengths as well as your social skills and practising low-risk drinking behaviour in the context of a ‘binge drinking’ culture are valuable ways to develop your resilience – a skill that will benefit you well beyond O-Week.1

* heavy episodic drinking also known colloquially as ‘binge drinking’.

  1. Graber R, de Visser R, Abraham C, Memon A, Hart A, Hunt K. Staying in the ‘sweet spot’: A resilience-based analysis of the lived experience of low-risk drinking and abstention among British youth. Psychology & health. 2016;31(1):79-99.
  2. Loxton NJ, Bunker RJ, Dingle GA, Wong V. Drinking not thinking: A prospective study of personality traits and drinking motives on alcohol consumption across the first year of university. Personality and Individual Differences. 2015;79:134-9.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Canberra: AIHW; 2017.
  4. Kypri K, Cronin M, Wright C. Do university students drink more hazardously than their non‐student peers? Addiction. 2005;100(5):713-4.
  5. Leontini R, Schofield T, Lindsay J, Brown R, Hepworth J, Germov J. “Social stuff” and institutional micro-processes: alcohol use by students in Australian university residential colleges. Contemporary Drug Problems. 2015;42(3):171-87.

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