One young adult in two has entered university education in Western countries. Many of these young students will be exposed, during this transitional period, to substantial changes in living arrangements, socialisation groups, and social activities. This kind of transition is often associated with risky behaviour such as excessive alcohol consumption. So far, however, there is little evidence about the social determinants of alcohol consumption among college students. We set out to explore how college environmental factors shape college students' drinking behaviour.
In May 2010 a web questionnaire was sent to all bachelor and master students registered with an important Belgian university; 7,015 students participated (participation = 39%). The survey looked at drinking behaviour, social involvement, college environmental factors, drinking norms, and positive drinking consequences.
On average each student had 1.7 drinks a day and 2.8 episodes of abusive drinking a month. We found that the more a student was exposed to college environmental factors, the greater the risk of heavy, frequent, and abusive drinking. Alcohol consumption increased for students living on campus, living in a dormitory with a higher number of room-mates, and having been in the University for a long spell. Most such environmental factors were explained by social involvement, such as participation to the student folklore, pre-partying, and normative expectations.