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College and University Students

CollegeThe prevalence of alcohol use among college students is a concern for school administrators and parents alike. Students spend a vast amount of money on alcohol -- far more than they spend on textbooks. The number of students who binge drink, that is, consume five drinks in a row (men) or four drinks in a row (women) on one occasion, is high.

The Harvard School of Public Health Survey of 1993, which examined a nationwide sample of students, produced some illuminating findings:

  • 44 percent of students engaged in binge drinking
  • almost 4 percent reported daily consumption of alcohol
  • many academic and social behavior problems were associated with alcohol and other drug use

Students who consume alcohol frequently engage in risk-taking behaviors, including:

  • driving while drunk
  • riding with a drunk driver
  • missing classes
  • performing poorly academically
  • fighting
  • having unprotected sex
  • engaging in casual sex with partner not well known to drinker
  • sexual assault (as victim or perpetrator)
  • property damage
  • carelessness resulting in injury
  • drinking games
  • behavior resulting in arrest
  • becoming verbally abusive

Alcohol use is a strong predictor in campus sexual assaults, property damage, injury, and poor academic performance. In addition, there are frequent fatalities among college students from alcohol poisoning, the result of ingesting too much alcohol in a short period of time.

Colleges and universities face a major challenge to prevent such tragedies. Schools must educate students on the dangers of alcohol use. The Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Act requires that schools provide students written information each year that includes:

  • information about health risks associated with alcohol and other drugs of abuse (illegal)
  • description of counseling and treatment services for students and employees
  • standards prohibiting the use of alcohol or illicit drugs by students and employees on school property or in school activities
  • details of laws applicable to unlawful use of drugs or alcohol
  • notification that violators face disciplinary action
  • school standards for disciplinary action for student or employee violators

There is also campus concern for the secondary effects of drinking, that is, the effects on other students. There is evidence that drinking behavior infringes upon the rights of nondrinkers.

Some problems include:

  • loss of sleep
  • interference with studies
  • property damage
  • verbal abuse
  • physical assault
  • sexual assault
  • having to care for a drunken student

The Prevention Primer describes methodologies adopted by some college campuses to reduce alcohol consumption.

Enforcement - fines, sanctions for underage alcohol consumption

Availability - regulation of alcohol on campus. This can be done by banning alcoholic beverages in the campus environs

Pricing - Banning the campus advertisement of reduced-priced drinks for students at "happy hours"

Peer Counseling - training programs for peers to educate other students about alcohol use

Advertising/Sponsorship - banning alcohol advertising and barring alcohol manufacturers from sponsoring events

Alcohol-Free Residence Halls - prohibiting use of alcohol in dormitories

Other prevention methods may include:

  • educational programs designed for new students to help them gain refusal skills in situations where alcohol might be served
  • providing alternatives to the campus "bar scene"
  • training of residence hall assistants to identify, and refer accordingly, students who may have alcohol problems
  • inclusion of substance abuse education into the curriculum
  • require that nonalcoholic beverages and food be provided at all events where alcohol is served, and encourage local taverns to do the same
  • involving the community in a collaborative effort to keep young people safe

College Students and Alcohol

Binge Drinking on Campus

Facts on Tap

Hot Topic: College Binge Drinking

What is Binge Drinking?

College Student Binge Drinking Causes Problems Throughout School

Alcohol still top health risk to college students

College Drinking

Secondary Effects of Binge Drinking on College Campuses


Weschler, H., Dowdell, G. W., Davenport, A., and DeJong, W. 1993. Binge Drinking on Campus: Results of a National Study. Bulletin of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention

Weschler, H., Austin, B., and DeJong, W. 1996. Secondary Effects of Binge Drinking on Campus. Bulletin of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention

Prevention Primer. 1993. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention