Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Heavy Drinking on Canadian Campuses

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Heavy Drinking on Canadian Campuses

Article excerpt


Objective: To describe the prevalence and frequency of heavy drinking episodes among Canadian undergraduates.

Methods: Data are shown from the Canadian Campus Survey, a national mail survey, conducted in the fall of 2998, with a random sample of 7,800 students from 16 universitites.

Results: Overall, 62.7% and 34.8% of students reported consuming 5 or more drinks and 8 or more drinks, respectively, on a single occasion at least once during the fall semester. On average, drinkers reported having 5 or more drinks almost 5 times during the fall semester, and having 8 or more drinks almost twice during the same period. The groups reporting the highest rates of heavy drinking were males, those living in university residences, those with low academic orientation and those with high recreational orientation.

Interpretation: Generally, this study has shown that heavy drinking is highly engrained in Canadian undergraduates' drinking patterns, and is related to a number of factors. These factors can be used to develop targeted prevention efforts.

One of the most salient public health issues confronting college campuses is the consequences of heavy drinking, traditionally defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a single drinking occasion.1 In addition to alcohol intoxication, these consequences include motor vehicle crashes, high-risk sexual behaviour and poor academic performance.2-6 In addition, heavy drinking on campus affects non-drinkers as well as drinkers.7,8

The epidemiological knowledge regarding heavy drinking in the US is longstanding, but the history of such studies in Canada is recent, sparse and regionalized,9-12 and no study has been conducted nationally. This paper will describe the prevalence and frequency of heavy drinking among a nationally representative sample of Canadian undergraduates and assess the character of subgroup differences related to key demographic and campus lifestyle factors.


The 1998 Canadian Campus Survey (CCS) is the first Canadian survey conducted nationally to assess alcohol and other drug use among university students. 13 The CCS employed a stratified two-stage cluster selection of undergraduates enrolled in full-time studies at accredited universities during the 1998-99 academic year. The sample was stratified equally according to five regions: British Columbia, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Provinces. Four universities per region were selected with probability-- proportional to size (i.e., larger universities had a higher probability of selection than smaller universities) for all regions except BC, which sampled all 4 universities with certainty. In total, 23 universities (including 3 randomly selected replacements) were approached for their participation, of which 16 agreed to participate. Within each university, 1,000 students were randomly selected with equal probability. Sixteen thousand questionnaires were mailed, of which 15,188 were deemed eligible mailings. A total of 7,800 eligible and useable completions, representing about 442,000 Canadian undergraduates, were returned, for a 51 % student cooperation rate. Mean student cooperation rates varied from 42% to 64% by university and from 46% (Ontario) to 59% (Quebec) by region. Table I, which displays the number of respondents and the weighted percentages, also indicates that the weighted distributions closely approximate the Canadian undergraduate population for key variables.


Our outcome variable, heavy drinking episode, is represented by the percentage and frequency of consuming 5 or more drinks (5-plus) and 8 or more drinks (8-plus) on a single occasion "since September", an 8 to 12 week period. This timeframe was intended to capture any drinking occasions occurring on or off campus since the student began the 19981999 academic year.

These outcomes were examined relative to seven independent variables. …

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