Newswise — Many thousands of young people opt to study abroad for part of their degree course, seizing the personal, cultural, and academic opportunities this brings. However, excess alcohol consumption also features in some stays abroad ─with new research showing that young people studying abroad have more excessive and harmful drinking behaviors during their stay than those staying home. This raises concern over short-term risks to health and well being, and that exchange program stays might act as a stepping stone to an alcohol use disorder in future.  

In a large European study, almost 4000 exchange students aged 18 to 35 years completed a two-part online survey, once before leaving their home country and again at the end of their stay abroad. Questions addressed alcohol consumption and binge-drinking behavior – the latter characterized by excessive alcohol intake over a short timeframe, and particularly hazardous in young people ─ over the previous six months. Responses were compared to those of students who stayed home but had a similar level of baseline drinking; these students completed the survey early in the academic year and again six months later.

Among stay-at-home students, excessive and harmful alcohol consumption behaviors decreased on average as the academic year progressed. However, among study abroad students aged up to 25 years, the frequency and intensity of excessive consumption episodes significantly increased during stays abroad compared with the time period before the trip. Binge drinking behavior escalated in those aged 18 to 19 years – indicating that younger students are especially susceptible to risky drinking behaviors during study abroad. Students’ region of origin and destination also influenced their experiences with alcohol – with those from Southern Europe, and/or studying in Eastern Europe, showing the greatest increase in harmful alcohol consumption or binge drinking behavior.