Drinking on campus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2007, 12:00am

Barry Lau Chun-hung had his first taste of alcohol as a freshman at university.

Final-year students took him to a karaoke lounge to celebrate the end of orientation camp.

Feeling thirsty, Barry picked up a can of beer as there was nothing non-alcoholic to drink.

He found the beer a bit bitter, but grew to like the taste. Gradually those few sips developed into half a dozen cans of beer or a full glass of whiskey every week.

Barry is one of many university binge drinkers. A recent survey shows there is a rising trend in binge drinking among university students of all disciplines.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming at least five drinks in a row in one session in the past month.

Sian Griffiths, director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's (CUHK) public health school, carried out a three-year study on binge drinking among university students.

She said the study showed there was a significant rise in both men and women who were inexperienced drinkers and who start to drink more at university.

Questionnaires were handed to all first-year students at CUHK. Second-year students from one of the four colleges were given the same questionnaire a year later.

Of the 410 Year Two students who returned the questionnaire, 54 admitted to being binge drinkers.

The students usually start off with beer when they first arrive at university. Then they move on to wines and spirits as they advance into their second year.

The students usually drink to celebrate and relax, but some drink out of curiosity, while others enjoy the taste of alcohol.

'I drink when I'm happy,' said Barry, who is pursuing a Master of Philosophy in Biology at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

Barry, 24, usually opts for alcoholic drinks at social gatherings. 'Everyone is ordering alcohol. There's no reason for me to order orange juice,' he said.

Although he drinks often, Barry is careful not to get drunk.

'I've only been drunk twice, once at Christmas and the other on my birthday. We were mixing different kinds of alcohol, that's how I got drunk,' he said.

'I can drink quite a lot, but I stop when I start to feel sleepy or when I know I can't handle any more.'

Lucas, who does not want to give his full name, started drinking when he was 14. He says he drinks more now that he lives on campus.

'It's safer to be drinking in residence [compared to bars or pubs]. And it's not nice to be seen getting drunk at home either,' said Lucas, 22, a final-year student at HKU.

Some studies show that drinking a little can help protect one's heart and boost the immune system. But heavy drinking can lead to dependency, damage the internal organs, impair mental health and put a strain on relationships.

Professor Griffiths' study also revealed that students tend to use alcohol to cope with stress. However, most of them did not let themselves get behind in their studies or get lower grades because of drinking.

'Drinking is an important social activity. I think it's all right to drink as long as it doesn't affect your schoolwork. Drinkers should also control themselves and not get addicted to alcohol,' said Barry.