A Longitudinal Study of European Students' Alcohol Use and Related Behaviors as They Travel Abroad to Study

New research has revealed that European students who travel abroad to study increase their alcohol consumption by 35% while they are away from home. This corresponds with an increase in alcohol-related harm.

The paper provides an insight into the risks posed by alcohol to increasing numbers of students who study abroad. Completed by 1,145 students across 42 countries, the longitudinal survey is one of the first and largest to take data from students before departure, whilst abroad and after their return. The frequency and volume of alcohol consumed, and related negative outcomes, were the paper’s primary focus. Secondary outcomes for heavy episodic drinking, drug use and unprotected casual sex were also considered.

The study showed participants drank a mean of 12.59 standard drinks per week at pre-departure which rose to 17.06 during the study abroad trip. The rise correlated with other data and shows pre-departure expectations about alcohol use while abroad, positive adjustment to the host country, lower academic engagement and cheaper perceived living costs in the host country are important factors.

Unexpected results showed that upon returning a mean 8.01 standard drinks were consumed. Consequently, it is the first study to show levels of consumption to fall below pre-departure levels on their return home. This pattern continued in the percentage of students who became drunk at least once a month, with 41.6% at pre-departure, 52.9% during and 31% post-return.

Importantly, the study reveals how students on these programmes will experience on average a higher number of negative alcohol related consequences each month. While some of these experiences may be low level, such as hangovers, others are serious, such as injury, violence, and sexual assault. Simon Moore, a co-author of the paper, noted “with over 300,000 participating on these programmes in Europe alone, the number of students exposed to potential risks is dramatic and rising.”

While students can gain considerably from a period of study in another country, we should look to ways in which we can maximise students’ potential, their enjoyment in foreign countries but to also minimise risk.
— Simon Moore, Director of the Violence Research Group (VRG)

The pre-existing assumptions by students about drinking whilst on their study abroad will be difficult to change. Host institutions should instead consider promoting activities that encourage overseas students to socialise outside of their exchange cohort through social and cultural activities that do not involve alcohol.

Access the full report 'A Longitudinal Study of European Students' Alcohol Use and Related Behaviors as They Travel Abroad to Study’ to learn more about its findings. The paper was authored by Giovanni Aresi alongside academics in the Catholic University of Milan, Cardiff University and Swansea University.