Studying abroad means an unending vacation for many young people,because of fewer academic responsibilities, no parental supervision, and unlimied alcohol.
Excessive drinking while in a different country can present additional problems, including disrupted travel plans, promoting negative stereotypes of American students and even legal issues with a foreign government.
Eric Pedersen, a UW graduate student in psychology and co-authors report that students doubled how much they drank while they were away, upping their consumption from about four alcoholic drinks per week while at home to about eight drinks per week while they were abroad.
"This could be a drink a night - a glass of wine at dinner - over the course of a week," he said.
When students returned to campus, generally they lessened their alcohol consumption to their pre-trip levels. But those who drank the most while away returned home drinking more heavily than when they left.
Pedersen's data also support the idea that students younger than 21, the legal drinking age in the U.S., take advantage of more lax drinking laws abroad. The underage students in his study nearly tripled their drinking, whereas students over 21 doubled their intake of alcohol.
Those who went to Europe, Australia or New Zealand drank more heavily while they were abroad than those who went to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East or Africa.
Pedersen and his co-authors recommend that prevention programs target students who are heavy drinkers and intend to drink heavily while abroad.
"Working with these students pre-departure is a terrific opportunity to help reduce their risks for drinking consequences while abroad, and may also help prevent difficulties when they return home," said said Mary Larimer, director of the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors and associate director of the UW's Addictive Behaviors Research Center.
The study is published in the current issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviours.