Alcohol and Risky Drinking

College student binge drinking

  • Full-time college students tend to drink more than others in their age group. In 2019, 53 percent of full-time college students drank alcohol in the past month. Of those, 33 percent reported binge drinking and 8 percent reported heavy drinking in the past month. Among individuals ages 18 to 22 not enrolled fulltime in college, the percentages were 44 percent, 28 percent, and 6 percent, respectively (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2020).
  • Many students may come to college with established drinking habits. Among
    12th graders in 2019, 59 percent had already tried alcohol and 41 percent said they had been drunk at least once (Monitoring the Future Survey, 2020)
  • Risk of alcohol misuse appears to be greater among some college groups.
    While individual rates of substance misuse vary among fraternities and
    sororities across campuses, in general, membership in these groups is
    associated with increased rates of binge drinking and marijuana use (McCabe et al., 2018).

What is binge drinking?

  • Binge drinking: when women consume 4-or-more drinks. or men consume 5-or-more drinks, on a single occasion.
  • Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that typically brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 or higher.
  • Extreme binge drinking: when women consume 8-or-more drinks, or men consume 10-or-more drinks, on a single occasion.

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college
with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. 

Consequences of binge drinking

About one-quarter of college students report having negative academic consequences because of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind in their studies, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall (White et al., 2013).

Each year, among college students ages 18 to 24:

  • 3,360,000 drive under the influence of alcohol;
  • 696,000 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking;
  • 599,000 who are under the influence of alcohol are unintentionally injured;
  • 22,219 are hospitalized for an alcohol overdose; and
  • 1,519 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes (White et al., 2013; Hingson et al., 2017).

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Around 9 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 meet the criteria for past-year AUD, according to a 2019 national survey (2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health).

Other consequences

These include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, damage, and involvement with the police.

Factors affecting binge drinking

Although some students come to college already having some experience with alcohol, certain aspects of college life — such as unstructured time, widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults — can lead to the problem. In fact, college students have higher binge-drinking rates and a higher incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol than their noncollege peers.

The first six weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.

Factors related to specific college environments also are significant. Students attending schools with strong Greek systems or prominent athletic programs tend to drink more than students at other types of schools. In terms of living arrangements, alcohol consumption is highest among students living in fraternities and sororities and lowest among commuting students who live with their families.