Professor Phillip Murphy, looking at the camera, standing outside the main building

As well as damaging their health, university students who drink too much alcohol may also be damaging their academic performance. This is the implication of findings to be presented today by researchers from Edge Hill University at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Dublin.[1]

David Dutchman and Dr. Philip Murphy looked at a sample of 46 second year students with an average age 23.[2] They found that entrance qualifications and the students’ IQ predicted only 2% of the variation in marks obtained. However, when measures of alcohol consumption and other drug intake were included along side entrance qualifications and IQ, it became possible to predict 25% of this variation. Alcohol intake was by far the strongest predictor of academic success, with rising consumption levels leading to lower marks.

Dr. Murphy, Reader in Psychology in the Department of Social & Psychological Sciences said: “The poor predictive ability of entrance qualifications and IQ related measures is remarkable in itself. When this is compared to the significant increase in predictive ability for academic performance when measures of alcohol and other drug use are included, the findings are even more remarkable.”

Dr. Murphy continued: “Our data does not allow us to say whether the findings are due to the effect of alcohol on the brain, or to the lifestyle factors associated with heavier alcohol use which may get in the way of studying.”

He added: “We know that, on average, members of our sample consumed just over 11 units of alcohol on a typical drinking occasion, which is fairly representative of their age group nationally. However, the recommended safe levels for daily alcohol consumption are four units for men and three units for women”.[3]

Dr. Murphy indicated that further research is planned to build upon the findings of this initial study, saying: “There are clearly many lifestyle and other variables which may be related to academic performance. Alcohol and other drug use are only part of the picture. Interestingly, estimates of hours spent in private study were only marginally correlated with academic performance in this sample. We clearly need more research in this area. In the meantime, students should remember the potential long-term damage they may be doing to their career prospects by spoiling their own academic performance by drinking too much.”

[1] The 2008 Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society is being held as joint conference with the Psychological Society of Ireland.

[2] This study was not a population survey, and this sample size satisfies the requirements of statistical power with regard to the validity of these findings.

[3] These are the current recommendations of the Department of Health