Preconceived Notions About Alcohol Lead to Trouble for Students Traveling Abroad, LMU Study Finds

Dec 14, 2010, 16:19 ET from Loyola Marymount University

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 14, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- American college students participate in study abroad programs to expand their horizons and experience life among different cultures. But their attitudes toward alcohol use in other countries can create negative consequences, a Loyola Marymount University study has found.

The research, led by Psychology professor Joe LaBrie, found that American students heading overseas expect that alcohol will be readily available to them and believe that drinking will make their experience more fun. Previous research by this team found students overestimate how much drinking is normal, and that heavy-drinking students are more likely to participate in study abroad programs.

That combination poses challenges for administrators of college and university study abroad programs, who need to address those perceptions before and during overseas trips.

"American students are well aware that many other cultures have more relaxed attitudes toward alcohol consumption among young people," LaBrie said. "But many factors combine to place these students at increased risk: the self-selection into programs by heavy drinking students, beliefs about drinking in foreign countries, misperceptions about how much other study abroad students drink, and anxiety about the culture of the host country. Students who study abroad are often not sufficiently prepared for the consequences they could face from more frequent drinking when overseas."

Specifically, the dangers caused by drinking too heavily can multiply in foreign countries. Language barriers, unfamiliar surroundings and lack of knowledge about local customs or laws can lead students into legal trouble or unsafe situations.

The study, which was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, surveyed 152 students over two years about their experiences when studying overseas. Prior to leaving the country, participants said they expected alcohol would be "readily available" and "easy to buy" in their host countries.

Those expectations led students to drink alcohol more frequently than they would at home, the researchers found. Male students reported drinking 2.38 days per week before study abroad, and 2.92 days per week while overseas. For female students, the average was 1.81 days per week at home and 2.76 days per week while studying abroad.

Students reported a wide variety of negative consequences to their drinking, from hangovers (44 percent of males and 37 percent of females) to waking up in unexpected places (7 percent of males). Students who reported negative sexual consequences, such as regretting sexual situations or being pressured into having sex, also reported drinking more heavily than those who did not report negative sexual consequences.

Each year, more than 250,000 American students travel to other countries for study, according to the Institute of International Education. With federal legislation to increase opportunities for students, that number could grow to a million in 10 years.

The study results make it clear that study abroad program administrators need to prepare students for the challenges they will face regarding alcohol consumption overseas, said Justin Hummer, an LMU researcher and co-author of the paper. Pre-departure orientation sessions should incorporate preventive, harm reduction information sessions pertaining to alcohol use, regardless of the university's stance on alcohol use while abroad.

"In general, pre-departure orientations talk about the kind of risks in new environments, but what is often left out is how alcohol can exacerbate those risks," Hummer said. "You're not familiar with the language, the transportation, not surrounded by your normal support networks. Misusing or abusing alcohol in an unfamiliar culture can lead to potentially more serious consequences. In the end, this will detract from the great benefits associated with a culturally immersive experience."

The other authors of the study are Tehniat Mirza of LMU and Eric Pedersen of the University of Washington. The study can be found online here:

About Loyola Marymount University

Located between the Pacific Ocean and downtown Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is a comprehensive university offering 53 major programs, 32 master's degrees and a doctoral degree in education from four colleges, two schools and Loyola Law School. Founded in 1911, LMU is ranked third in "Best Regional Universities West" by U.S. News & World Report. LMU is the largest Catholic institution of higher education on the West Coast with nearly 5,700 undergraduate students and more than 3,000 graduate and law students. For more LMU news and events, please visit

SOURCE Loyola Marymount University