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Students who study abroad may hit the brewskis harder, a study finds

October 12, 2010

With the new school year underway, some college students are spending the year abroad. In addition to hitting the books and taking in the sights, they may also be drinking a lot more, a new study suggests.

University of Washington researchers surveyed 177 study abroad students about their drinking habits before they departed for their new host country, during their stay (an average three to five months), and on their return.

Overall, drinking more than doubled while abroad, but returned to pre-travel levels when the students returned. However, the heaviest drinkers drank more when they got back.

Where the students studied had an effect on how much they drank. Those who were in Europe or Australia and New Zealand drank the most, and those in Latin America drank significantly more when they returned compared with pre-trip levels.

Students under 21 drank less than their older peers before traveling, but once abroad they increased their drinking more--by about 170%. They also drank more when they returned compared with before their trip abroad, and those numbers had no association with turning 21. It should be noted that in some countries the legal drinking age is under 21. Those who intended to drink more while abroad fulfilled those goals.

The researchers mentioned that the study population may be more inclined to drink and want to drink more while abroad. The study also didn't get into details about specific drinking habits, such as risky or binge drinking. But the scientists also noted that there may be serious consequences of excessive drinking in a foreign country, such as supporting negative views of American students, mucking up travel plans and getting caught in a legal morass.

"The study abroad experience presents both unique opportunities and unique risks for students," said study co-author Mary Larimer, director of the Center for the Study of Health & Risk Behaviors, in a news release. "Working with these students pre-departure is a terrific opportunity to help reduce their risks for drinking consequences while abroad, and may also help prevent difficulties when they return home."

The study was published recently in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

--Jeannine Stein / Los Angeles Times

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