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The survey of 201 students on campus, with a mean age of 21, shows they referred to their peers as "trooper", "champion" and "hero", versus "coward, weirdo and killjoy", depending on how much alcohol they drank.
Dr Robertson, of the Otago University marketing department, said alcohol was of concern among tertiary student populations throughout the world, where binge-drinking was considered a normal social activity.
"It’s a social process that they’ve been drawn into."
The harm alcohol could cause was widely known, and those who drank to excess were at risk of amnesia, aggression, hospitalisation, sexual disinhibition, and loss of control.
But limiting alcohol consumption in such an international "culture of intoxication" left students "stigmatised, ostracised or the subject of peer pressure", she said.
Public policy "must tackle the underlying culture", she urged.
The derogatory terms often used about moderate drinkers amounted to "some pretty raw information".
More emphasis should be put on "disruptive practices, such as volunteer work, paid employment and sport", which could "act as a barrier to heavy drinking".
National alcohol consumption guidelines were "not sufficient to address patterns of heavy drinking in cultures of intoxication". The study, by authors Dr Robertson and Dr Karen Tustin, was published in Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.
Peer-to-peer interviews were used to find out how students who moderated their alcohol consumption, as recommended by national guidelines, were perceived.
Students interviewed their heavy-drinking peers to investigate their perceptions of three drinking behaviours —heavy, moderate and abstinence.
Those who drank heavily were labelled positively and viewed as sociable. But those who limited their drinking were viewed similarly to those who abstained and were labelled using emotive and derogatory terms.
The perception of students who moderated their consumption was "extremely negative", she said.