Alcohol policies at student unions in Sweden
By Anna Strandberg
Every university in Sweden has one or several student unions. The aim of the unions is to facilitate and promote members’ education, and they are also engaged in organizing social activities for students. Many student unions run their own pubs where the price of alcohol is not seldom lower than on licensed premises in general, which means that university students have access to alcohol at a low cost. During the 2010s, the average age of university students has decreased and today, almost half of Sweden’s young adults enter the higher education system before the age of 23. Young adults belong to the age group where risk consumption of alcohol is most common and they are also difficult to reach by preventive measures. It is well known that high alcohol consumption is associated with negative consequences both in the short and the long term.
Stockholm förebygger alkohol- och drogproblem (STAD – Stockholm prevents alcohol and drug problems) has, in collaboration with Systembolaget’s independent subsidiary IQ, which works for a smarter approach to alcohol, conducted a study on alcohol policy and alcohol prevention work at Sweden’s student unions. Systembolaget is a government-owned chain of liquor stores in Sweden. The survey was conducted during the autumn of 2014 when the chair people of a total of 78 student unions answered a web-based questionnaire.
The survey results show that a majority of the unions have a written alcohol policy and that the policy is followed to a large extent. Also, almost half reported that there is a written action plan for how the policy work is to be carried out. Furthermore, the majority reported that alcohol can be a problem among university students, and the responses also show that there seems to be an awareness of the risks associated with high alcohol consumption. While almost half believe that moderate alcohol consumption can play a positive role in student life, a majority report that alcohol consumption can be a problem. Respondents also express that the culture of student life encourages a high level of alcohol consumption. The majority are positive about alcohol prevention work in the student union setting and believe that the unions could have an influence on alcohol consumption among students. Some respondents gave examples of such work being done at their unions, aiming to shift focus from alcohol, and also mentioned the importance of having non-alcoholic options.
Although the results are positive, it should be noted that, despite the presence of written alcohol policies at the student unions, high alcohol consumption among university students is still a public health problem. High availability and consumption of alcohol among students makes universities, and more specifically the student unions, an important arena for preventive work. Policy work needs, in addition to a written alcohol policy, to include corresponding action plans. This study does not provide an answer to the extent to which the content of the alcohol policies is realized in alcohol prevention work. However, the positive attitudes are likely to be a good starting point for such work.
Anna K. Strandberg, Tobias H. Elgán, Magnus Jägerskog, Johanna Gripenberg
Anna Strandberg, PhD, has a background in psychology and education and defended her thesis at the Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet in 2014. Her research interests are focused on alcohol and drug prevention, especially among young people, and include studies on the development and implementation of digital interventions targeting i) children whose parents have substance use problems and ii) young people with a risk consumption of alcohol and related risk behaviors. Anna is a researcher at STAD, Stockholm Centre for Psychiatry Research, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Stockholm County Council Health Care Provision and Karolinska Institutet.