The FINANCIAL — Having a glass of wine or a beer at a work reception or university event is regarded by many as the most natural thing in the world – but we would like to see the UvA break that mould. Our new alcohol policy will focus on fostering a new social standard in which alcohol consumption is not automatically the norm, University of Amsterdam notes.
Health effects of alcohol
‘In a few years’ time, we will look back on how common alcoholic drinks are at university events with the same confusion as we now look back on the tumblers filled with cigarettes that were provided for guests at events in the 1970s’, says Reinout Wiers, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology. ‘There is increasing evidence that alcohol consumption has negative effects on our health. Rather than having a very strong effect on one specific outcome, such as in the case of smoking and lung cancer, it has a more scattergun effect.
Besides all the well-known liver problems associated with alcohol consumption, a clear link with various types of cancer, from oesophageal cancer to breast cancer in women, has also been demonstrated. Alcohol also has a negative impact on our ability to think, and that is clearly at odds with what the UvA stands for as a knowledge institution. The effects of alcohol consumption on academic and professional performance are reason enough to discourage alcohol consumption among students and employees.’
Alcohol at odds with inclusive university
The UvA has an active diversity policy and aims to be a diverse and inclusive study and working environment. It is also for that reason that casual alcohol consumption does not fit in with the ethos of the UvA. The normalised social setting in which alcohol consumption is commonplace is a setting that certain groups find uncomfortable. With the new alcohol policy, the UvA aims to be more mindful of the diverse groups of people who are teetotal for a broad variety of reasons – including religious and health considerations – and who do not drink alcohol.
The new alcohol policy strikes a positive tone and is mainly based on Dos rather than on Don’ts. A wide and appealing range of non-alcoholic beverages should be available to choose from at campus catering facilities and during drinks receptions, conferences and events. In addition, an ‘Alcohol and Social Safety’ Covenant has now been concluded with student associations and agreements have been made with study associations regarding the consumption of and attitude towards alcohol. Furthermore, students and staff will receive information on how to seek out help in relation to cutting down drinking, University of Amsterdam notes.
The policy will also see the UvA focus on increasing awareness about alcohol consumption in the years to come. This will allow students to identify their own excessive drinking habits and seek out help sooner. According to a study conducted by the Trimbos Institute in 2018, young adults as a group are most often classified as ‘heavy drinkers’, consuming at least six units in a one day for men and four for women, with highly skilled individuals drinking much more (89.1%) than lower skilled individuals (67.5%). As such, there is a significant degree of problematic alcohol use among students.
‘Students are not likely to identify excessive alcohol use as a problem they suffer from’, says student doctor Peter Vonk. ‘This means that they won’t specifically seek out help for their own alcohol consumption.’ The UvA will therefore be focusing on raising awareness about alcohol use in the coming years, to allow students to identify their own excessive alcohol consumption habits and seek out help at an earlier stage.
National Prevention Agreement
The UvA’s new alcohol policy was drawn up in response to the National Prevention Agreement, which contains specific long-term objectives for improving public health. Universities have agreed to reduce the number of excessive and problematic alcohol users. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), of which the UvA is a member, has committed itself to this objective.