Their cup runneth over

Young adults have never been known for moderation in their drinking habits, but a new study by British researchers suggests there may be more to their behavior than mere youthful recklessness.

When researchers surveyed a group of secondary and university students to assess their knowledge and beliefs about alcohol consumption, fewer than half were able to give correct answers. Most of them didn’t do much better when asked to demonstrate what a “usual” drink should be; they consistently poured more than government guidelines recommend for daily consumption of alcohol.

The findings suggest many young drinkers don’t really know what constitutes sensible drinking behavior, concluded Richard de Visser of the University of Sussex, the lead author of the study. “There may be a need for more and/or different alcohol education in schools and the media,” he said in a news release accompanying the study.

The study appears in the March issue of the Drug and Alcohol Review journal and provides some interesting insight into the ability of young drinkers to estimate the size of a drink.

For instance, university students who participated in a drink-pouring exercise underestimated the size of the drink 65 percent of the time; secondary school students underestimated 52 percent of the time. In many cases, they poured more than the recommended daily guideline but were unable to recognize this. Overall, university students were more accurate in their estimates than the younger students – but even so, they were within 10 percent of the drink’s actual size only 25 percent of the time.

The questionnaire portion of the study also revealed that many of the participants didn’t know the guidelines for safe alcohol consumption and weren’t knowledgeable about how much alcohol is contained in a drink.

This was a small study, involving 309 secondary students and 125 university students, so the findings are limited. It’s also hard to know whether similar findings would apply in the United States, where the drinking culture is different from that in Great Britain.

It’s a little eye-opening to realize, however, the disconnect between what young drinkers see as a standard drink and what a standard drink actually is. If we want young adults to drink moderately, perhaps we need better techniques to help them understand what “moderate” means, the researchers concluded.

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