College Students Use Alcohol Labels to get Drunk
- Friday, May 29th, 2009
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -
Australia's use of "standard drink" information on alcohol labels is intended to help adults drink responsibly. But a new study suggests that many college students may use the labels to get drunk at the cheapest cost.
Australian guidelines issued in 2002 by the National Health & Medical Research Centre recommend that men have no more than four alcoholic drinks per day, while women should have no more than two. However, guidelines vary from country to country plus studies from different countries have found that many people do not know what constitutes a standard alcoholic drink.
To help clear the confusion, Australia now requires that alcohol labels state the number of standard drinks contained within a bottle. There has been debate about whether to institute similar regulations in the U.S.
But in the new study, researchers found that college students often use this standard-drink labeling to get the most alcohol for their dollar.
In six focus-group discussions with undergraduates at one university, the researchers found that most students read the standard-drink labeling when buying alcohol. But they largely used the information to pick the strongest drink, and get drunk faster and more cheaply.
The findings suggest that if used in a vacuum, standard-drink labeling can have the unintended effect of aiding young people in drinking irresponsibly, the researchers report in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
The study does not suggest, however, that the labeling itself does no good, according to lead researcher Sandra C. Jones, and Parri Gregory, both from the University of Wollongong in Australia.
"Standard-drink labeling is very helpful for people who want to drink within the recommended limits," Jones told Reuters Health.
The fact that some college students misuse that information, she said, implies that "if we want to reduce alcohol-related harms in young people, we need more than just labels."
For example, Jones noted, a consistent association between alcohol content and price -- with price tags climbing in proportion to alcohol concentration -- might discourage more young people from heavy drinking.
SOURCE: Drug and Alcohol Review, May 2009.