O Week predictor of drinking

A study linking Orientation Week binge-drinking to later drinking problems has been released as the furore surrounding a weekend party continues to grow.

Research by the University of Otago department of psychology found heavy drinking during O Week may be a gateway to heavier drinking during the rest of the academic year.

Males who were light drinkers before coming to university may be particularly susceptible to this gateway effect, the study's findings suggest.

The findings come as the spotlight shines on student drinking behaviour after a boozy party of 1000 people in Hyde St resulted in the street looking ''like the Third World''.

The psychology department study showed high drinking rates during Orientation Week predicted increased rates of drinking during the academic year and this was especially true for men.

''When we controlled for pre-university drinking, men who drank more during Orientation Week showed significantly higher rates of drinking during the academic year - more than what would be expected based on their pre-university drinking rates,'' the study's findings, which will be published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, said.

The study tracked the drinking behaviour of 143 male and female residential college students during their first year of study.

The study's worrying findings showed that people who drank at low levels before university, but who drank heavily during O Week, were nearly equivalent in their academic year drinking to participants who drank at high levels before and during Orientation.

''Students viewing Orientation Week as a one-off event or a last blow-out before the real work begins should consider the impact their drinking may have on their academic year,'' Dr Tamlin Conner, co-author of the study, said.

More research was needed to show causal link between the behaviours, but O Week might prove ''a prime target for alcohol-based interventions in universities'', she said.

Dunedin alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Ian Paulin said the study's findings were troubling.

''No doubt there are some students who've never consumed alcohol and are suddenly presented with choices that they have never had before [during O Week],'' he said.

''Sadly, for some, these choices become habits.''

''We know that if you drink too much, you or someone else is more likely to come to harm.

''It's a simple message: take responsibility for yourself and look after your mates. Consider the impact that one night of drinking too much alcohol could have on your friends and family if things go wrong.''

Otago University Students' Association president Paul Hunt said OUSA placed an emphasis on student safety during O Week.

Most of the trouble around excessive drinking was associated with flat parties and pre-loading, he said.

''We would like to see more students in supervised environments,'' he said.

''The issue is getting students into safe and supervised environments earlier in the night.

''We are looking at ways to do that. There's no silver bullet.''

Otago University Students' Association communications manager Tess Trotter said OUSA hosted O Week events where consuming alcohol was not the focus.

At other events, health and safety was a priority for the organisation.

''OUSA do provide lots of safety nets for people who might have over-indulged. We are doing our upmost to make people safe,'' she said.


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