No, there is not a student binge drinking epidemic

It’s actually in decline, but try telling the police or the NUS that

At the end of January, divers found the body of Durham second year Euan Coulthard in the river Wear, the third student found dead in the stream in the last 14 months. Before there had even been a post-mortem both the local police chief and Durham’s Pro Vice Chancellor gave statements which (among other things) raised concerns about drinking.

Today a City Safety Group comprised of the police, council, university, student union and church announced new “safety measures” in the wake of the deaths. They recommended “educating” people about drink and “tackling” cheap alcohol.

I appreciate it is not in good taste to use this poor young man’s death to defend our right to down VKs and vomit on ourselves. But it would be a huge mistake if these tragedies led to a focus on a mythical problem (a rise in binge drinking), rather than a simple solution (barriers and fences along the riverbank).

The River Wear, where three students have been found dead in 14 months

The River Wear, where three students have been found dead in 14 months

Binge drinking among students is falling, fast. A 2012 Department for Health report shows just 17 per cent of women aged 16-24 drank more than six units of alcohol on their heaviest day of drinking, compared to 27 per cent in 2005. Men are also binging less – with 22% drinking more than eight units compared to 32 per cent in 2005.

In 1998, 71% of 16- to 24-year-olds questioned said they’d had a drink that week. In 2012 it was 48% – lower than their parents (70%). You can see the same patterns in smoking and drug use too.

graph 1

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Professor Fiona Measham, an expert on drinking at Durham University, said she’d seen a clear change in young people’s behaviour. At the time of that report, she told The Observer: “From about 2002 onwards, the tide turned. I’ve seen it in my students and I’ve seen it when I do my research in pubs and clubs.

“Something is changing, a cultural shift, there is no longer the desire to go out and get completely obliterated.”

Try selling that kind of evidence to the chiefs at Prof Measham’s university, or her local police force, or the NUS.

Photo posed by model

Photo posed by model

Ah, yes, the exciting and relevant NUS, who have campaigned to increase the cost of drinks, and last year got it right again by launching their “Alcohol Impact” campaign. Some of the key recommendations were, you will recall, “tackling” pub crawls and banning booze at campus bars unless they signed up to a new regulator.

They worked with seven Student Unions on the campaign, and now, after seven hard months, I am proud and honoured to present you with one of their partners’ awareness campaigns, designed by the good people at Manchester Metropolitan University with the aim of “tackling” that great scourge of society, House Parties.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JTScvRCos

The video has since been taken down.

If you skip to a minute in, you’ll see, yes, that’s them implying you might be sexually assaulted if you have a house party. Which is a bit like saying you might get shat on by a pigeon if you step outside (actually, it’s worse – the pigeon can’t help it). You will be delighted to hear Alcohol Impact was funded by the Home Office, meaning you may have actually paid for it.

Man Met are joined by a host of Student Unions who have taken to breathalysing and proselytising their peers in a bid to replace the enthusiastic consumption of alcohol with a European “cafe culture,” which no doubt will be as fun as it sounds.

And the madness goes on, the moral panic that refuses to go away in spite of the facts. Because every sad story has to have a lesson, a campaign, a moment of decisiveness. And every powerless wannabe politician wants to tell us how to live, if only so they have something to do other than stare at their feet and sigh: “oh dear.”

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