It was no different a fortnight ago, when I saw a group of students downing large glasses of beer at around 10:30 a.m. I found myself trying to come up with excuses for their behaviour. “Maybe they’ve just sat an examination and are celebrating the fact that it’s over.” “Maybe they had an early start to the day and it feels like it’s after lunch now.” “Maybe it’s non-alcoholic beer.” Alcohol is part and parcel of our culture and features in traditions that we like to honour: drinking champagne to celebrate a major success, raising a toast to future happiness or giving a bottle of wine as a gift.
But drinking responsibly is still tricky. Excessive alcohol consumption among students is more the rule than the exception, and is extremely common. The Trimbos Institute states that 17 percent of university students drink to excess and nearly 30 percent are heavy drinkers. Both excessive and heavy drinking have detrimental effects on physical and mental health in the short and long term.
What is striking is that information on the smoke-free campus and smoke-free zone around Erasmus MC is common and easy to spot, yet information on EUR’s alcohol policy is hard to find. Albert Heijn To Go stores recently stopped selling alcohol in hospitals, but our campus supermarket SPAR limits itself to stickers on the shelves featuring a polite request: “Please drink alcohol at home and not on-campus.”
Utrecht University, on the other hand, has a clear policy in place. It has been in effect since 1 September 2019 and stipulates that all meetings for drinks and events in and around the university buildings must be alcohol-free before 5 p.m. (in other words, alcoholic drinks are not available). Furthermore, neither students nor staff are allowed to consume any alcohol whilst at work (in other words, alcohol consumption is not allowed in university buildings during regular teaching hours).
In 2018, all Dutch universities signed the National Prevention Agreement, one of the targets of which is to bring about a 50 percent reduction in excessive or problematic alcohol consumption among young adults in education by 2040. This is for the benefit of their health. This 50 percent reduction will not come about of its own accord. One cost-effective measure to reduce harmful alcohol consumption is to limit the availability of alcohol and reduce the number of points of sale. If EUR is serious about achieving the targets enshrined in the National Prevention Agreement, it will need to draw up a concrete alcohol policy that is easy for staff and students to find. Will EUR ever be both smoke-free and alcohol-free? We’ll just have to wait and see.