Back to School # 6: “Dry Days” on University Campuses

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To wrap up this week’s focus on drinking among post-secondary students, today we are talking about initiatives at some Canadian universities to ban alcohol during Frosh or Welcome Week as a “dry” kick-off to the school year.

Alcohol-free orientation weeks are believed to be one of the best ways to reduce the problems associated with drinking, and are meant to help promote a culture of moderation when it comes to drinking.

My own university, Laurentian University, has been cracking down on alcohol consumption during orientation week since 2012 with an initiative called “Dry Days.” During the first week of school, Laurentian students are banned from drinking alcohol in residence for the entire week, even those who are 19 or older.

Other post-secondary schools in Canada also have alcohol-free residences during orientation week, including Western, Guelph, and Queen’s universities.

What does the research say?

The beginning of the academic year has long been linked to heavy drinking among students at all stages of their university education. For example, in one New Zealand study, researchers reported that students consumed a significant amount of alcohol across orientation week – an average of 26 standard drinks throughout the weekand they experienced around five times as many alcohol-related consequences compared to a typical week during the school year. Researchers have also shown that the pattern of alcohol consumption established during orientation week continues into the academic year.

Studies out of the United States, Norway, and New Zealand have shown promising results for introducing intervention programs during orientation week.

Although there are numerous studies on heavy episodic drinking on Canadian university and college campuses, few have focused on orientation week specifically. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that alcohol-free orientation weeks are working to reduce the harms associated with heavy drinking, as well as the pressure students feel to drink.

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