Students traveling abroad can keep glass half full

According to researchers at the University of Washington, American college students who study abroad are likely to increase — even triple — their alcohol consumption while traveling internationally.

Students over the age of 21 doubled their intake of alcohol from an average of four drinks per week on campus to eight drinks per week abroad, according to a study published in the October issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. The overall increase in surveyed students’ alcohol consumption was 105 percent, while those underage students tripled their drinking with an increased consumption of 170 percent.

In the spring semester, many USC students will jet off to study abroad. These travelers must consider how their drinking habits might change while living in a foreign country.

As evidenced by wraparound lines at popular venues including Figueroa Street’s 901 Bar & Grill and the frequency of alcohol-fueled tailgate parties during game day, USC students are accustomed to a culture where most social events are punctuated with alcohol and drinking games.

And although they might not heed the university’s advice, most students are educated regarding the size of a standard drink and responsible drinking practices. Tools such as AlcoholEdu, an online tutorial that incoming freshmen are required to complete, aim to increase awareness and eliminate extreme drinking behavior on college campuses.

However, knowledge of a beer’s alcoholic content has proved insufficient information for students to apply safe drinking habits during their semesters abroad.

By consuming alcohol in excess, particularly in an unfamiliar country, the risks for students are greater than those traditionally associated with a night of drinking at USC.

Though instances of injury, crime and sexual abuse do occur as a result of binge drinking at USC, such severe ramifications are comparatively rare within the university’s party culture. Some of the more prevalent woes are students who slept through class because of a hangover or ruined a cell phone by jumping in a pool.

But students who travel abroad must take additional precautions as the heightened risks include becoming lost, getting pick-pocketed or otherwise taken advantage of.

The Washington study revealed that drinking increased most dramatically in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Those students who perceived that their peers were drinking more heavily also reported consuming more alcohol themselves, and those who planned to drink to experience international culture did so.

The Washington study surveyed 177 students before their departure and after their return to the United States. The majority of these students doubled their drinking while abroad, but most returned to an average of three to five drinks per week when they returned to Seattle.

Still, many students who drank the most while abroad — students under 21 — seem likely to return to the college campus drinking more heavily than when they left.

“That speaks to how there may be lasting changes in drinking behavior,” said Eric Pedersen, a University of Washington graduate student studying psychology and a researcher in the study.

Despite the reported increase in alcohol consumption, students at USC said that their binge drinking decreased while studying abroad. Juniors and seniors who traveled internationally explained that they would drink a glass of wine with dinner, which raised the count for their number of drinks per week, but that they did not become intoxicated while abroad as often as they would on campus.

“I would say that my drinking habits didn’t change and they might’ve gotten less, if anything,” said Katie Barbaro, a senior majoring in occupational therapy who studied abroad through a summer program in France. “I wasn’t looking to party every night. When I drank it was once a week in moderation as opposed to one big party at USC.”

Many USC students who studied abroad also agreed that potential risks from increased drinking should not discourage their peers from studying abroad.

“If you’re going to develop a drinking problem you’re going to develop it either way,” Barbaro said. “Maybe the availability of drinks [in Europe] makes it earlier onset, but it shouldn’t be a concern for students who want to study abroad.”

Students might even utilize these nightlife experiences as a form of cultural immersion.

“It’s not necessarily about going out and drinking. I just want to see the people,” said Alexander van der Hoek, a junior majoring in cinema-television production who studied in four European cities with Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism’s  International Communication Studies program.

“I want to see the kind of music they play, see the kind of dance styles. Those were my motivations for wanting to go out and experience the nightlife.”

Students traveling abroad this spring should try to do the same.

Kelsey Clark is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism.

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