Alcohol and Binge Drinking in College

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Binge drinking is a common problem on many college and university campuses. Many college students see alcohol consumption as a normal part of partying and college life. They see drinking as a way to explore their newfound freedom and independence. However, harmful drinking and underage drinking can pose serious risks to students’ health, safety, and academic success.

College Drinking Statistics

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • In 2018, in the United States, about 55% of young adults aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol within the past month
    • More than 1 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe
  • 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 died from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, like car crashes
  • 97,000 students between ages 18 and 24 reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape
  • Roughly 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • College students have higher binge-drinking rates and a higher incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol compared to their non-college peers

Not everyone’s drinking. People often overestimate the number of college students that drink and underestimate the ones that don’t.  About 20% of college students don’t drink at all!

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking too much in too little time, which raises one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or more, the level at which it is illegal to drive. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 4 or more drinks per occasion for women, and drinking 5 or more drinks per occasion for men.

Reasons for Binge Drinking

Some college students who binge drink are looking to have a good time, meet new people, and fit in. Others may use alcohol consumption as a way to cope with underlying problems. 

Reasons for binge drinking may include:

  • Party culture
  • Academic stress
  • Loneliness
  • Insecurity
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Relationship trauma
  • Wanting to create a new identity
  • Pressure from friends, sororities, and fraternities
    • Schools with strong Greek systems and with prominent athletic programs are more likely to have alcohol-related problems.
  • Less structured time and less contact with parents and support groups

Dangers and Consequences of College Drinking

Excessive drinking has many negative effects, including:

  • Sexual assault
  • Violence like fighting
  • Legal trouble for crimes, such as Driving Under the Influence (DUI) 
  • School violations that can endanger scholarships or degree completion
  • Performing poorly in class
    • About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, such as missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams, and receiving lower grades
  • Injury, such as burns, bruises, and alcohol poisoning
  • Physical and mental health issues
    • Long term diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease, and worsened anxiety or depression
  • Alcohol-use disorder, alcohol dependence, and addiction
  • Other problems, such as suicide attempts, injuries, and unsafe sex practices leading to pregnancies and STDs

How to Prevent Binge Drinking in College

To avoid the consequences of binge drinking in college, it’s important for students to have supportive resources and a network of supportive people. To prevent unhealthy alcohol consumption, colleges need to create a healthy environment that focuses on  education and awareness, culture, and enforcement methods. Schools also need to evaluate environmental factors, like drinking traditions and tailgates. Colleges can also direct prevention efforts and support toward higher-risk groups such as first-year students, student athletes and members of Greek organizations.

  • Enforce age 21 laws and work with campus police, organizations, and local law enforcement
  • Provide social norms interventions and motivational interventions, which give feedback on students’ personal drinking behavior and negative consequences. This can be done through our Alcohol-Wise and Under the Influence courses.
  • Provide skills training so students can make good decisions when faced with drinking situations
  • Communicate policies before and after students arrive on campus
  • Be cautious of alcohol availability on campus
    • Some colleges have “dry campuses” to prevent drinking

It’s important for students to set limits and practice protective behaviors, such as:

  • Knowing your limits- While many people drink to feel buzzed, drinking for the sake of getting drunk can cause you to wind up in trouble or black out. Try drinking in a controlled environment with a friend or family member to get a feel of how your behavior is affected. 
  • Eat before or during drinking- When your stomach is empty, alcohol absorbs more quickly into the bloodstream. Eating a high-fat, high-protein meal before drinking, snacking while drinking, and alternating drinking alcohol with water can help prevent you from getting wasted.
  • Pace yourself with one drink per hour- While everyone metabolizes drinks differently and the strength of drinks varies, the general rule of thumb is that the body can metabolize one unit of alcohol per hour. Drinking faster than this can cause drunkenness. 
  • Don’t mix alcohol and medications- Certain medications can interact with alcohol, impacting effectiveness or causing negative effects.
  • Alcohol supports fun but doesn’t create it- Relying on alcohol to be confident or social can make you feel pressure to continue drinking. Participate in activities like game or trivia nights so that alcohol isn’t the primary reason for the gathering. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the first six weeks of a student’s first year are a critical time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences. Incoming students are vulnerable to expectations and social pressures during the beginning of the academic year. Alcohol prevention education in college is key to preparing students for risky drinking situations.

Prevention and awareness courses in middle and high schools can also help prevent binge drinking in college. Students who have grown up with healthy expectations and behavior from their family and teachers are less likely to engage in harmful drinking behaviors in college. 

Making a Change with Prevention and Intervention Education

At 3rd Millennium Classrooms, we provide prevention and intervention courses to help students make smart decisions about alcohol and avoid dangerous consequences. 

  • Alcohol-Wise- an online alcohol prevention course that includes skills training that clears up normative misperceptions, provides personalized feedback on drinking behavior, and teaches protective behaviors.
  • Under the Influence- an alcohol course used as an intervention for campus violations. To encourage behavior change, this course integrates personalized feedback for each student and helps students understand the risks of their drinking patterns. 

If you’re finding that students at your college are drinking heavily and experiencing negative consequences, you have options to provide the support they need. Get in touch with our College Program Director today.  

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