A Shot of Common Sense

September 09, 2004, vol. 31, no. 1
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Would it surprise you to know that most SFU students drink alcohol between three and five times a week? Or that they often miss classes after tying one on at the pub? Or that they frequently drink and drive?

Would it come as more of a shock to learn that in fact, just the opposite is true: the majority of SFU students drink once a month or less, and they mix their alcohol with a good shot of common sense.

This summer, SFU health outreach coordinator Dal Sohal papered the campus with the first of a series of awareness posters that take aim at common misperceptions about student drinking habits.

Poster number one shot down the myth that student life is one big drunken party: “Most (65 per cent) of SFU students drink once a month or less,” says Sohal. New posters will appear during orientation week, and throughout the fall term.

Sohal, who last January studied the success of similar awareness campaigns at the University of Arizona, is keen to “bridge the gap between perception and reality” when it comes to student drinking.

To that end, SFU is the only BC university participating in a national study led by the Canadian Centre for Social Norms Research in Toronto. The first step was to survey a random and representative group of students last October about their attitudes around alcohol.

“We found that our students aren't drinking as much as they think they are,” says Sohal. “Even though most of them told us they drink once a month or less, a majority of students said they thought other students were drinking between one and five times a week.
Students want to fit in, and if they wrongly perceive that everyone else is drinking, they may feel pressure to drink.”

While Sohal is reluctant to give out statistics in advance of the posters, she says SFU students can feel positive about their drinking habits. “They don't drink much, they behave responsibly when they do drink, and they don't allow alcohol to have a negative impact on their lives.”

She hopes the poster campaign will “give confidence to responsible drinkers, and help them understand that they are part of the majority. It's a different kind of health promotion - away from the scare tactics of yesterday. We hope that the posters will create conversation and get people talking about the issues.”

Sohal will resurvey students in October and again in 2005. “If the marketing campaign has been successful, we should see it reflected in a more accurate perception of how much SFU students actually drink.”

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