College plans to develop drink and drug-free accommodation

Friday, August 31, 2012

Drink-free student accommodation and more reporting of cheap alcohol promotions are among plans to widen action against the harmful effects of alcohol by University College Cork.

Around 3,500 new students at the college in the coming weeks will be targeted with a number of ongoing initiatives to raise awareness around the potential harms of drink and drug abuse. As well as students, academic and other staff are being trained to recognise if someone may have addiction issues and refer them to university health, counselling or other services.

While residents near the campus and other student accommodation centres continue to complain about anti-social behaviour, the strategy includes a number of plans to make the campus and local environment safe from alcohol-related harm.

Dr Michael Byrne, head of UCC ’s student health department, said one idea being considered is making some of the college ’s student accommodation centres drink and drug-free.

“Often, by third of fourth year in college, students will prefer to be in quieter surroundings anyway. We would like to have it in place on a voluntary basis in the next two or three years, but you couldn ’t change it straight away as people may have long-term rental contracts.”

College authorities also want to make it easier for students or local communities to complain about low-price drink sales or breaches of licensing laws. Dr Byrne supports plans by junior health minister Roisín Shortall to bring in minimum price-per-unit on alcohol and to limit the outlets where drink can be sold.

“We have previously raised concerns with retailers or pubs where they were deliberately targeting students with promotions around Raise and Give (RAG) Week or other events, through leaflet drops or blanket advertising,” Dr Byrne said.

He said there are particular issues around the sale of spirits at very low prices but student health and other services are seeing the effects, with alcohol-related harm making up a significant portion of serious issues they deal with.

“We see all the damage people do to themselves and to others, from dealing with hangovers and minor cuts to serious injuries from falls or assaults.”

He said there has been more engagement with local communities and residents in recent years but, despite their efforts and the involvement of student union patrols, there are still problems to be addressed.

“Students have been brought before disciplinary boards on foot of anti-social behaviour, which is not always drink-related either. There are problems around this issue but hopefully we can get to a tipping point where we might change the attitudes of even a portion of youngsters,” he said.

All incoming first-year students are being asked to complete the online e-Pub UCC programme, which gets them to examine their own drinking habits and points them to resources to help with any issues. More than 6,500 UCC students have used it since 2008, while all first-year students will be advised on a healthier approach during orientation week.