• College presidents agree binge drinking is the most serious problem on campus.
  • In 1999, Harvard University’s School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveyed students at 119 colleges. Here are some of the findings:


  • 44% of U.S. college students engaged in binge drinking during the two weeks before the survey.
  • 51% of the MEN drank 5 or more drinks in a row
  • 40% of the WOMEN drank 4 or more drinks in a row
  • Students more likely to binge drink are white, age 23 or younger, and are residents of a fraternity or sorority. If they were binge drinkers in high school, they were three times more likely to binge in college.
  • The percentage of students who were binge drinkers was nearly uniform from freshman to senior year, even though students under 21 are prohibited from purchasing alcohol.
  • Over half the binge drinkers, almost one in four students, were frequent binge drinkers, that is, they binged three or more times in a two-week period. While one in five students reported abstaining from drinking alcohol.


Binge drinkers cited the following as important reasons for drinking:

  • Drinking to get drunk (cited by 47% of students who consumed alcohol)
  • Status associated with drinking
  • Culture of alcohol consumption on campus
  • Peer pressure & academic stress


A higher percentage of binge drinkers than non-binge drinkers reported having experienced alcohol-related problems since the beginning of the school year. Frequent binge drinkers were 21 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to have:

  • Missed class
  • Engaged in unplanned sexual activity
  • Fallen behind in school work
  • Not used protection when having sex
  • Damaged property
  • Gotten in trouble with campus police
  • Been hurt or injured
  • Driven a car after drinking


About three out of four students responding to the study reported experiencing at least one adverse consequence of another student’s drinking during the school year. At colleges with a high binge drinking rates:

  • 71% had sleep or study interrupted
  • 23% had a serious argument
  • 57% had to take care of an intoxicated student
  • 16% had property damaged
  • 36% had been insulted or humiliated
  • 11% had been pushed, hit or assaulted
  • 23% had experienced an unwanted sexual
  • 1% had been the victim of a sexual advance Assault or "date rape"


Binge drinking is a widespread phenomenon on most college campuses, a problem that not only interferes with the mission of higher education but also carries with it serious risks of disease, injury, and death. Findings from the Harvard survey suggest that college and university administrators will want to intensify their search for new approaches to preventing both underage and binge drinking.

Updated March 2000

For more information on the The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, click here.