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08 Features Sobering thoughts

Is E-Pub UCC’s latest attempt to combat binge drinking, a step in the right direction, or a step too far? Features Editor Margaret Perry met with Dr. Michael Byrne, head of UCC’s Student Health Department to investi- gate.

This year, for the first time, all in- coming first years were asked to complete a survey called “E-Pub” upon registration. In Ireland, NUIG was the first university to adopt the survey, followed by UCC in 2008. E-Pub was developed in San Diego University by coun- selling psychologists to combat binge drinking and is widely used in American universities. It asks you a series of questions about your own personal drinking habits and attempts to assess your alcohol intake and drinking behaviour. Ac- cording to E-Pub, I drink 20 cheeseburgers worth of alcohol every month. A sobering thought. But is it necessary, or intrusive? Does it actually have any effect on students’ drinking habits, or is it just another shock tactic?

According to Dr. Byrne, studies

have shown that E-Pub is more im- pactful than widespread ad cam-

paigns, because while an ad cam- paign shows the negative effects of binge drinking in a general way, your E-pub results are specific to your personal alcohol intake, and this is what can make them so shocking. Dr. Byrne compares the difference in impact to the differ- ence between watching a car crash on TV and having a near-miss in a car yourself. Some students have reacted negatively to the survey, feeling that the results are com- pletely inaccurate, describing it as “patronising” and “ridiculous”. In Dr. Byrne’s view, “Shock tactics don’t work. It isn’t meant to be a scare tactic, but that’s not to say it isn’t scary for people.” But is the survey an important measure to en- courage students to examine their own personal drinking habits, or an interfering attempt to control this aspect of students’ lives?

Many students view college as a

place to experience an adult sense of freedom and can so resent being asked to submit information about their drinking habits to the univer- sity. We are adults and we can drink however much we like. I ap- proached E-pub with this mental- ity, feeling indignant

that a

computer survey was attempting to curb my social life. I thought that it required you to enter your weekly alcohol intake on a regular basis so it could monitor your habit, but this is not the case. You can complete the survey once, reg- ularly or not at all. While the sur- vey is compulsory in some American universities, UCC first year students will just receive two reminders to complete it. Dr. Byrne feels that this is an important factor in its success, as compulsion would lead to inaccurate results from an- noyed students resentful at being forced to examine their drinking.

The survey works by aiming to lower the level of binge drinking that is currently socially accept- able. We are social creatures, and so our drinking habits are largely determined by the habits of our friends and the wider campus drink culture. Occasional binge drinking is seen as normal, and everybody

Erasmus Diary: Beginning anew in Paris Jerry Larkin

Well here I am in Paris. I arrived a week ago in a blaze of sunshine and upon jetting in to Charles de Gaulle, the fact that I am living in this huge and vibrant city for the next academic year had not yet fully settled in – I was definitely still in holiday mode. We have to do a year of study in France in order to complete our Bcomm with French degree, and it was one of the main reasons I had actually picked the course all the way back in Leaving Cert. On the day I jet- ted out I hadn't even begun to worry about the fact that I had no accommodation heading over there! That Sunday involved lazing on

the steps of the Opera, overlooking the historic site of the Bastille – anyone can spend hours at this site just watching the world go by. I then made my way along the banks of the Seine to meet my father, who has come along for a few days to help me find accommodation with the benefit of him being a fran- cophone. The pair of us went for a slap-up meal within a stone's throw from the gorgeous St. Michel foun- tain. It was certainly an idyllic

way to start my time in Paris, but the sinking realisation that this was going to be my last proper meal for 9 months, as well as the fact that I could be homeless in a week or two, made the gourmet food less appetizing. The next day we had to get up

early in order to make the first day of college at our new UCC – ISC Paris School of Management, which is based on the outskirts of the city, near the suburbs. Luckily I had to get up at 6 every day dur- ing the summer for work, so wak- ing up at 7 was a relative sleep-in. The first day at our new college was quite intimidating – it felt more like the first day of primary school rather than third year in col- lege! We begun an intense French language course which was actu- ally quite enjoyable and I can re- ally see my French improving to no end - which is a big relief as I thought I had forgotten everything after a summer of working, and perhaps some boozing too. At this stage, I had really begun

to worry about my housing situa- tion. I had the good fortune of being able to crash on the floor of my generous classmates but I knew I had to find my own accommoda-

wants to behave like a normal stu- dent. E-Pub aims to tell us that it’s our definition or normal drinking that’s the problem. It’s not the fact that we drink, but how much and how often we drink. The E-Pub survey is controversial fundamen- tally because it is human nature to resent being told what’s good for you. Completing the survey is shocking not because it sets out to scare students into changing their drinking habits, but because it of- fers a matter-of-fact insight into the actual amount we drink and its po- tential long-term effects.

E-pub is obviously, like most sur- veys, not fully reflective of the re- ality of your drinking habits. It’s difficult to decide what a “typical week” of drinking might be, and the survey measures your intake in standard drinks, which can be dif- ficult to incorporate into our col- lege culture of drinking before a night out. A ‘naggin’ of vodka or bottle of wine, for example, con- tain 8 standard pub or club meas- ure shots, or 8 units of alcohol each. The recommended upper limit of units for a woman per week is 14 units. Stopping to think about this can be a shock! Though E-pub can over-estimate your re- sults, even engaging with a slightly

September 28th 2010

inaccurate picture of your own drinking habits makes you think. Dr. Byrne argues that any engage- ment with E-pub among students, even criticism and students delib- erately skewing their results by en- tering ridiculously high levels of alcohol use is a positive measure. Any engagement at all, he claims, increases students’ awareness of their drinking patterns and those of their peers.

With 1720 completions so far, E- Pub is beginning to filter through the student community. It stands as a reminder of our warped percep- tion of socially acceptable levels of alcohol consumption, both in col- lege and in Ireland. In extreme cases, the survey’s results seem to matter-of-factly illuminate a path to a lifetime of alcohol abuse and dependency. Taken as a worse-case scenario, this can be scoffed at but not be entirely dismissed. What- ever E-Pub’s individual results, it reminds us of a habit that is a real problem beneath the surface of campus life. It won’t shock stu- dents into changing their drinking habits, but if it makes us think about our drinking even for a minute, then its introduction can be understood and justified, if not en- tirely appreciated by students.

tion as soon as possible – sleeping rough in a city I've known only as a tourist looked like a distinct pos- sibility. Despite worrying about my housing situation, I found a job with a great deal of luck. I went into an Irish bar near the Bastille to watch the soccer match against An- dorra, ended up chatting to an Irish waitress and was told there might be a job going. The next day I had a fairly surreal interview with the manager of the pub who happened to be from Bishopstown, he showed me the ropes of the pub and said I had a trial the next night behind the bar – C'etait bizarre! Three days into my new life in

Paris and a well-deserved French cliché almost forced me to miss college – une grêve (or a strike to you and me). Around 200,000 marched around the Bastille area of Paris (and around 2 million throughout France) to protest against a new French government initiative to increase the pension age from 60 to 62. The intent of the French to keep things as they are no matter what may seem a tad ignorant to us cash-strapped Ir- landais, but one has to admire the the perseverance of this nation, its refusal to be dictated to by the gov-

ernment and its willingness to vote with its feet. I am absolutely posi- tive that if us meek Irish showed the same hunger (and cojones) of the French, we would be in a much better situation than we currently

are. However, such lessons should be confined to my economics class – it is time for this humble French correspondent to go show the French what us Irish do well – serving a good pint of Guinness!

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