Studying abroad increases drinking more than 100 percent

A new study from the University of Washington found that college students studying abroad increased their drinking on average more than 100 percent!

Students who were younger than the legal drinking age in the United States increased their drinking by about 170 percent abroad. The overall increase was about 105 percent

From as Associated Press story:

“Drinking increased most dramatically in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the study by researchers at the University of Washington found. Students reported drinking more when they perceived their fellow travelers were drinking more heavily, and those who planned to make drinking part of their cultural immersion did so.”

“The study published in the current issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors looked only at drinking habits of students who went abroad from the University of Washington, but UW graduate student Eric Pedersen said he would expect to get similar results at other universities.”

“I don’t think this is just a UW problem,” said the psychology student, who noted, however, that his study sample included more women than the national average for studying abroad and the students he looked at were more diverse ethnically than the national average…”

“Henry Wechsler, a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involving in Pedersen’s research, said the finding that location is an important element in shaping drinking behavior is consistent with his department’s research.”

” ‘We found that college students in the United States tend to drink at the levels of young people in the states where the colleges are located. What seems to be added here is that being away from the home environment of the college may create a ’spring break’ atmosphere,’ he said.”

I studied in Italy one summer in college but I don’t remember drinking very much. I know I wasn’t legal in the United States. I guess I was legal there. I do remember a fantastic roof top bar in Rome near our pensione with the most slippery giant marble staircase you’ve ever seen. I fell on it sober. I can’t even imagine tackling that staircase drunk.  I remember having a glass of wine with dinners but not much else.

We did have a bunch of students and even adults on the trip who did drink to excess. It started on the plane and extended through the two months. I do remember people in our group sweating alcohol in the mornings when the class was out seeing ruins in hot weather. They smelled terrible, and it was sad. Maybe that’s what I didn’t drink there.

Did you study abroad in college? Did you drink more overseas?

Did you let your high school or college student study abroad? Did they tell you if they drank more while overseas?

What do you think of study? Do you buy it even though it was only examining University of Washington students? Do you think the figures would extrapolate out to a bigger population?

What can parents or professors do to reign in the drinking while studying overseas?

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October 13th, 2010
2:47 am

yes, I studied abroad. Yes, I drank more than I do here. Drinking is a big part of culture in many other areas of the world. I personally went to Spain, where I discovered a love for wine. It was often cheaper to get a glass of wine or split a pitcher of sangria than it was to buy bottled water- and tap water doesn’t really get served. It is not uncommon for young teenagers to have a drink with dinner. I don’t understand why this is really an issue. They’re in college- they can make adult decisions. If they want to truly experience the culture, they’re going to drink more.
What can parents or professors do to reign in the drinking while studying overseas? ummm- if you’re in college, you can make your own decisions. No professor should be watching over someone’s shoulder to monitor those sorts of things.

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October 13th, 2010
6:32 am

No, the kids did not study abroad, yet I do not see how they could have drank (or is it drunk) more than they did here in college in the good ‘ol USA…and that is quite disturbing to us since we seldom drink, did not drink in college, and never, ever, had alcohol in our home when they were still living there 24/7. But, we do know that kids will be kids, especially college kids, so you learn to roll with the punches and to sleep when you can.


October 13th, 2010
6:49 am

I have two close friends that went abroad in college (and immediately after). Neither of them drank more. One of them actually drank significantly less because he took a part time job to help pay for the sightseeing.


October 13th, 2010
8:27 am

Unemployment in Georgia: 10.5%
Average median family income in the United States: $47,000
15 million people out of work
8 million out of work more than 6 months
No jobs…..

Studying Overseas in this economy??? A topic for upper middle class suburban ostrich syndrome mommy’s. Buh bye…

stupid topic,

October 13th, 2010
8:45 am

Now keep in mind, I didnt study abroad like you (nice obnoxious, personal interjection) but I did take statistics and if I remember correctly when calculating stats on human beings either: none of them did something (0%), some of them did something (1-99%) or all of them did something (100%). How does 170% of a fixed population do something? I’ll give you an example; The AJC has lost 90% of its readers because of dribel like this. if it were possible to lose 170%, it would.


October 13th, 2010
8:50 am

Yes, I studied abroad in southern France and yes I drank more. Drinking is a large part of the culture there. Children are given small sips of wine and beer and can order it in a restaurant when they are in their teens. However the French take a very hard line against drunkeness and DUI.

I think the major problem here is that we are told all our young lives that alcohol is bad and we shouldn’t do it and push our drinking age all the way up to 21. So when kids study abroad they get unfettered access to booze and don’t have the ability to moderate. I was lucky that my mom actually introduced us to alcohol when we were in our early teens. Nothing big, just a drink every few months at a family function. My sister and I learned to moderate our intake. That’s not to say that I didn’t get drunk from time to time but I know I got drunk a lot less than some of my peers.

In France you could go to the grocery store and buy some really good wine for really cheap so I did. One bottle a week. We went to wineries (most of use determined not to be the crazy drunk Americans) and bars. We had fun and learned to enjoy a beer without getting drunk off of it.

It’s all about teaching your kids that alcohol is fine… in moderation.


October 13th, 2010
8:51 am

Sorry meant “most of us”.


October 13th, 2010
9:31 am

Yes, I studied abroad in the UK and drank more while there (although that was hard to do because I drank like a fish here too!). Instead of only going out and drinking 3 or 4 nights per week, we pretty much went out every night while over there. We were studying and sightseeing constantly (and it was AWESOME), but we were also in “vacation mode.” It was one of the best times of my life! i learned so much and had so much fun -I never wanted to return. Who cares if young people drink when they go abroad? I honestly would be shocked if they didn’t. For many, it’s their first time overseas and their first taste of TRUE independence. A lot of kids backpack through Europe between their high school graduation and college, and they party their a**es off, but I don’t know why anyone would expect anything differently. It’s a wonderful learning experience. Whenever I go on vacation now I usually drink every day/night. I enjoy it, and it’s not something I get to do in my every day life. OH -to be young (and drunk) in Paris! It’s truly a sweet bohemian memory.


October 13th, 2010
9:47 am

Well, personally, I think the survey is a waste of money. It’s not exactly news that young adults drink. I think the U.S.’s drinking law is an echo of draconian Prohibition laws. How in the hell can a young adult at the age of 18 be trusted to be smart enough to vote for the President of the United State and be trained to protect and defend our country — and yet not be trusted to learn how to drink a beer responsibly? It’s NUTS. Talk about the infantilization of America! There are only 10 countries in the ENTIRE WORLD that limit drinking over the age of 18: Nicaragua, South Korea, Japan, Iceland, Paraguay, Fiji, Pakistan (and even then, not if you’re a Muslim), Sri Lanka, Palau . . . and the U.S. And of those 10, only four of them limit it to 21.Waiting until 21 to teach responsible drinking is unrealistic. Now, if you’re worried about drinking and driving, make those laws as strict as you like — as far as I’m concerned, one DUI and you lose your license for five years. A second DUI, and you lose the privilege forever. But the two issues are separate. If kids are taught responsible drinking, then drinking doesn’t become the “forbidden fruit” that it has developed into in the U.S.

When she was 16, my daughter performed abroad one summer in a music program in Europe. The sponsoring organization was very clear that while it did not encourage drinking, it was up to the parents and the students to decide how the student would handle the less-strict alcohol laws where they would be performing. We talked about it and set a guideline that one drink at a dinner with a host family or one drink at a club only in the presence of the trip chaperones would be acceptable. The second night in, the group was officially hosted at a party at which alcohol was served. The group was counseled as to care in alcohol consumption. However, my daughter, who had never had a drink before in her life (and I am as sure of this as I am that I am a woman), discovered the hard way that she has a low tolerance for alcohol — one drink and she was a giggly mess. The organization director called her on the carpet the next morning and said that she should have “known her limit,” and she asked, reasonably, how she was supposed to know, she was 16 and had never had a drink before! But she knows now.

“What can parents or professors do to reign in the drinking while studying overseas?” Hahahhahahahaha . . . nothing! The idea that a parent can control a putative adult from 5,000 miles away is laughable. They are ADULTS in every sense of the word except for perhaps financial independence. At that point, the school could insist that the student comport themselves as representatives of the school, so if they get stupid drunk and embarrass the program,, then the school can say, “Bye, bye,” I guess if you felt strongly enough about it, you could threaten to jerk their funding and make them come home if they have a glass of wine with dinner, or get sh!t-faced with their friends one night. Oh, dear — that means you’d probably have to take them out of college, too, because kids in college DRINK. After their freshman year, and after a really good hang-over, most quickly figure out the difference between having a drink and getting drunk.

As far as “letting” a student study abroad — heck, yes. Not only “let” but encouraged. It’s a big world and it’s getting smaller every day — getting out into the world is a great eye-opener to different cultures, different attitudes and makes you look at your own with a more critical and cosmopolitan eye. It would be more effective, however, if the student isn’t learning all these wonderful things through an alcoholic haze :-)


October 13th, 2010
9:48 am

T: my comment is in cyber-jail — and I’m NOT gong to type all that again!


October 13th, 2010
9:55 am

I never studied overseas. I made stupid choices and didn’t go to college when I had the opportunity but waited until after having children. I’m sure if I had gone to college and was given the opportunity to go study in another country, I’d have done so. And yes, I’m pretty sure I would have drank more then.

If my children have the opportunity in their future to go overseas to school, I hope that they will remember how they should act & do that. I don’t really mind them drinking like having wine with a meal, but not guzzling like a fish.


October 13th, 2010
9:58 am

@stupid topic: I’m confused? You mention 170% of a fixed population; where does that come in? I read it to be that a student increased their alcohol consumption by 170% when abroad.

What fixed population are you referring to?


October 13th, 2010
10:04 am

I will never, till the day I die, understand why in this country young men and women can go an DIE FOR THEIR COUNTRY but cannot have a beer when they get home. Ridiculous.

Yes people drink more abroad. But you know what else? They drink more responsibly too.


October 13th, 2010
10:22 am

Yes, I studied abroad, and yes, I drank more. So what?

If I increased my drinking by 100% – that means I went from one drink a week to two. Really, that statistic alone is meaningless.


October 13th, 2010
10:43 am

I didn’t go abroad to study, but like JATL, I drank enough here..Like others said, drinking isn’t frowned upon in other cultures like it is here and kids overseas learn to moderate..

@stupid topic..Yeah, this may be a stupid topic, but different topics are what Theresa gets paid for..So if you don’t care for this topic or any of her topics, go grumble on another site..Theresa’s topics must get enough feedback to keep her a job with the AJC..Are you jealous that you don’t get paid to write about stupid topics?


October 13th, 2010
11:13 am

@stupid topic: You should have paid attention in statistics. If a person has one drink, that is their zero. If they add another half drink, they have increased their drinking by 50%. One drink, 100%. If they add TWO drinks, they have increased their drinking by 200%. In trying to determine volume of drink in ounces, etc., you can come up with 170%.


October 13th, 2010
11:20 am

In college I wrote a paper in support of legalizing certain substances. To counter the arguement that it would increase the activity among young people I compared it to the drinking age in the US…

What I found was that the number of DUI and alcohol related deaths increased by 75% in the 3 year span immediately after a person is old enough to drink. This is regardless of whether the age is 18 or 21.

The simple conclusion to be drawn is that when someone is forbidden something…they will indulge inexcess when finally they are allowed it. This theory also applies to Freshman 15. I believe other studdies showing toddlers gorging on junk food have been done too. Eventually the novelty wears off, reality sets in, or the body itself has nature kick in ( as in the case of the junk food).

Therefore why would it shock ANYONE that the age restricition being different in Europe would mean more kids from the US would imbibe there?


October 13th, 2010
11:21 am

@Photius: If a family can afford to provide an opportunity for their child to a study abroad (and frankly, most of the kids I know are working to contribute at least a portion of the costs — my son paid for his living expenses and travel expenses during his time at the London School of Economics, we paid tuition), then what difference does it make if unemployment is 10%? It’s not like we’re asking the government to send them. What are we supposed to do, cover ourselves in sackcloth and ashes and sit on the street corner moaning “woe is the world”? I started a business last year, and have had to employ two people to help handle the volume. This “suburban ostrich mommy” is doing her part. What are you doing, other than quoting statistics?

a mom

October 13th, 2010
11:35 am

@DB: agree with your reply to Photius. Our college student studied abroad this summer; we helped with the cost of the trip but HOPE covered the tuition, she applied and received a scholarship and she provided the spending money from her part-time job. For her major and to get into grad school it is pretty much a requirement.

I don’t think she drank anymore there than here but she has been 21 for almost a year. The reason: she was taking 8 credits so studying was required, and she wanted to be able to be able to enjoy all the sights and food – hard to do with a hangover. She did say that some of the students did drink waaay too much but she thought they were stupid to do so.


October 13th, 2010
11:35 am

photius — I worked two jobs the summer before the summer that I studied abroad. My parents said they would only pay for what a summer at uga cost and I had to cover the rest. I waited tables during the days and had a night job at a radio station. During the school year I worked at the student newspaper and saved more money. I wasn’t blowing money on drinks at uga. I was getting As, working every day to accomplish a goal. Maybe that’s how kids are going now — maybe they are working a saving for it.


October 13th, 2010
11:54 am

photius – I went to summer school at uga the next summer too and was the editor of the student newspaper. Thanks to those two summers and ap credits from high school, I graduated in 3.7 years as opposed to the over four years it was generally taking people. I worked all but three quarters at UGA and end up graduating with honors and buying myself a new car my senior year because I saved my money.


October 13th, 2010
12:05 pm

Sorry but another lame topic. Europeans drink more than Americans, but they are also better able to handle their alcohol. Instead of binge drinking as 18-year-olds in college, they are gradually exposed to alcohol from childhood, so that when they are older they don’t pull frat boy stunts like we see on U.S. campuses. If we Americans would just destigmatize alcohol, educate our kids on responsible drinking early on and set a good example, none of us parents would have to worry about our college freshmen at their first frat keg party.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

October 13th, 2010
12:35 pm

2nd topic up — not because of the haters but because it was already planned

I will be having topics from two guest bloggers this week — one from a high school friend and another from our very own Jesse’s Girl!! Stay tuned for those coming Thursday and Friday I believe!

been here before

October 13th, 2010
12:46 pm

TWG. You should get Michael to respond to this. Friday and Saturday nights when he was 14 were the nights he and all the other kids in Naples, Italy drank to excess. Those were the days.


October 13th, 2010
3:06 pm

@Photius- it is actually cheaper for many to study abroad than it is to go to school within the states. I know at UGA, if a student is paying out of state tuition, when they study abroad they actually pay in state tuition, which leads to it being cheaper in the long run.


October 13th, 2010
4:24 pm

@ been here….I am guessing that 14 was legal at the time? Thus the excess would be in keeping with all of us that admit to over indulgence when we first came of age. Correct?

Italy currently has a legal age of 16.

@DB–if you serve in the armed forces you can drink/purchase on base at 18 with your military ID. It used to be in Columbus they would honor the military ID of 18 and allow them to drink on leave too. But that was in the 90’s so it may well have changed.


October 13th, 2010
6:16 pm

Having been born & raised in England, we were introduced to the pub culture at an early age. The pub is a gathering point for friends & relatives, a place to watch sporting events or listen to live music, to chat about the day’s or week’s events, and just unwind after the day. Growing up with the easy availability of alcohol took away all the mystery (for want of a better word) and there was none of the binge drinking you hear about with students in the US.

Did we get drunk? Of course! Did we make a habit of it? Definitely not. Did we have to lie and sneak around to get our hands on it? No. Course we frowned on drinking & driving and everyone had a taxi driver friend to get them safely around. Which is still the case with my friends back home.

Maybe the US needs to take a leaf out of the Europeans’ book and relax the attitude towards alcohol consumption, demystify it for teens & young adults. If they know it’s readily available to them, they may be less likely to binge drink.

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October 13th, 2010
8:28 pm

I studied all kinds of broads. Did terribly….I still don’t understand them

Cum Laude

October 13th, 2010
8:29 pm

I studied a broad in college…and I ended up marrying her.

atlanta mom

October 13th, 2010
8:47 pm

My daughter at Ga Tech did a semester in Chili and another in Singapore. Considering that it costs about $10,000 for room and board at GT, she was able to live on that easily in those countries (dorms were quite cheap in Singapore–would not have wanted to rent an apartment there). Tuition remained the same.
Another daughter did a summer internship in France–that was expensive, but considering what it did for resume, it was an opportunity that could not be passed up.
Neither drinks in the US, and neither drank overseas. But the daughter in France did note that Europeans were much more “adult like” in their drinking than her American counterparts. She believes the European approach to drinking results in much more responsible drinking. Of course, they can drink and walk. That’s much more difficult to do here


October 13th, 2010
10:09 pm

I find that study abroad programs tend to attract the better students. They are often confident, sociable and willing to try new things. They are probably just as likely to eat more ice cream as drink more. You are constantly on the go with most programs, making the most the money you spent to go to places you dreamt about seeing. The notion that students are drunk all the time makes no sense. They have long days and a few drinks and a long dinner at night. More studying aboad…less AJC is the way to go.