Binge Drinking on College Campuses

Defining Binge Drinking

concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or above. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

--NIAAA National Advisory Council

College presidents agree that binge drinking is the most serious problem on campus.

While binge drinking rates vary by college, within colleges, binge drinking has remained stable over time.1

Extent of College Drinking

  • In 2005, about 10.8 million persons ages 12-20 (28.2% of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Nearly 7.2 million (18.8%) were binge drinkers, and 2.3 million (6.0%) were heavy drinkers.2 More males than females ages 12-20 reported current alcohol use (28.9% vs. 27.5%), binge drinking (21.3% vs. 16.1%), and heavy drinking (7.6% vs. 4.3%).3
  • 44% of students attending 4-year colleges drink alcohol at the binge level or greater.4
  • Young adults aged 18-22 enrolled full-time in college were more likely than their peers not enrolled full time to use alcohol in the past month, to binge drink, and to drink heavily.5
  • 48% of college drinkers report that ‘drinking to get drunk’ is an important reason for drinking. Almost 1 in 4 drink alcohol 10 or more times a month and 29% report being intoxicated 3 or more times per month.6
  • Binge drinkers consumed 91% of all alcohol that college students reported drinking, while 68% of alcohol was consumed by frequent binge drinkers.7
  • College students who first became intoxicated before age 19 are more likely to be alcohol dependent and frequent heavy drinkers. These younger drinkers are also more likely to report driving after drinking, riding with a driver who was drinking or drunk, and sustaining injuries after drinking alcohol that required medical attention.8

Impact of Binge Drinking

  • Binge drinking negatively affects college students’ academic performance, social relationships and health. Frequent binge drinkers are 21 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to miss classes, fall behind in schoolwork, engage in vandalism, be injured or hurt, engage in unplanned sexual activity, not use protection when having sex, get in trouble with campus police, or drive a car after drinking.9
  • An NIAAA chartered study estimated that 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, most often due to motor vehicle crashes.10
  • Students who binge drink are more likely to put themselves and others at risk for injury by operating or riding in a motor vehicle after drinking. Among students who drove at least once per week, 13% reported driving after consuming 5 or more drinks and 23% of students reported driving with a high or intoxicated driver.11
  • Annually, an estimated 30,000 college students require medical treatment after overdosing on alcohol.12
  • Every year, 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol, while more than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.13
  • 5% of female students reported that they were the victims of a sexual assault, and 3 in 4 of these students were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the rape. 14
  • Annually, 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 engage in unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.15
  • Students attending schools with high rates of binge drinking experience a greater number of secondhand effects such as disruption of sleep or study; property damage; and verbal, physical, or sexual violence than those attending schools with low rates of binge drinking.

Clinical Significance of College Drinking

According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC),

  • 19% of college students ages 18–24 met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence
  • 5% of these students sought treatment for alcohol problems in the year prior to the survey, and
  • 3% of these students thought they should seek help but did not.

Alcoholism treatment programs are available but often are not accessible to a broad audience. The heaviest drinkers are the least likely to seek treatment, yet experience or are responsible for the most alcohol-related problems on campus.16 According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, nearly 1 in 3 college students (3 in 5 frequent binge drinkers) meet the criteria for alcohol abuse while 1 in 17 (1 in 5 frequent binge drinkers) qualify for alcohol dependence.17

Community and Policy Factors that Influence College Drinking

  • Low price and very easy access to alcohol are strong correlates of binge drinking.18
  • Binge drinking rates of college students correlate with the binge drinking rates of adults living in the same state.19 The rate of binge drinking among college students was about 32 percent lower–36 percent compared to 53 percent–in the 10 states with the lowest rates of adult binge drinking compared to the ten states with the highest. Furthermore, campus binge drinking rates were 31 percent lower–33 percent compared to 48 percent–in seven states that had four or more laws targeting high volume sales of alcohol versus states that did not.20
  • Students attending colleges that ban alcohol are less likely to drink and more likely to abstain from alcohol. However, students who chose to drink at these colleges consume just as much alcohol as students at schools without a ban.21
  • Students attending college in states with more alcohol control policies are less likely to engage in binge drinking. These policies include keg registration; laws restricting driving at 0.08% or higher blood alcohol concentration; and restrictions on happy hours, open containers in public, beer sold in pitchers, and billboards and other types of alcohol advertising.22
  • A nationwide survey of 747 college presidents revealed that nearly all colleges had implemented some form of alcohol education, with efforts targeting high-risk populations such as first-year students, sorority/fraternity members, and athletes. Thirty-four percent of colleges banned alcohol for all students regardless of age, and four in five colleges offered some form of alcohol-free residential option.23

Alcohol Consumption Among College Freshman24

Past Month, Binge, and Heavy Alcohol Use among Full-Time College Students Aged 18-20, by Gender: 2002-200525

Past Month Alcohol Use by Age, 200126

  1. Weschler, H. et al. "Trends in college binge drinking during a period of increased prevention efforts: Findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys: 1993-2001." Journal of American College Health. 50:203-217. 2002.
  2. 2005 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health
  3. 2005 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health
  4. Weschler, Henry & Nelson, Toben F. "What We Have Learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 69: 481-490. 2008.
  5. 2005 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health
  6. Weschler, Henry & Nelson, Toben F. "What We Have Learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 69: 481-490. 2008.
  7. Weschler, Henry & Nelson, Toben F. "What We Have Learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 69: 481-490. 2008.
  8. Hingson, R.; Heeren, T.; Zakocs, R.; Winter, M.; and Wechsler, H. Age of first intoxication, heavy drinking, driving after drinking and risk of unintentional injury among U.S. college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 64:23–31, 2003.
  9. Harvard University School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 1999.
  10. Hingson, R. W. et al. "Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001." Annual Review of Public Health. 26:259-279, 2005.
  11. Weschler H. et al. "Drinking and driving among college students: The influence of alcohol-control policies." American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 25: 212-218. 2003.
  12. Weschler, Henry & Nelson, Toben F. "What We Have Learned from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 69: 481-490. 2008.
  13. Hingson, R. et al. Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001. Annual Review of Public Health. 26: 259-79; 2005.
  14. Mohler-Kuo, M. et al. "Correlates of rape while intoxicated in a national sample of college women." Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 65:37-45. 2004.
  15. Hingson RW, Heeren T, Zakocs RC, Kopstein A, Wechsler H. Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63(2):136-144, 2002.
  16. Presley, C.A., and Pimentel, E.R. The introduction of the heavy and frequent drinker: A proposed classification to increase accuracy of alcohol assessments in postsecondary educational settings. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 67:324–331, 2006.
  17. Knight, J.R. et al. "Alcohol abuse and dependence among U.S. college students." Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63: 263-270. 2002.
  18. Weschler, H. et al. "Environmental correlates of underage alcohol use and related problems of college students." American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 19:24-29. 2000.
  19. Nelson, T.F. et al. "The state sets the rate: The relationship among state-specific college binge drinking, state binge drinking rates, and selected state alcohol control policies." American Journal of Public Health. 95: 441-446. 2005.
  20. Nelson TF, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Wechsler H. "The state sets the rate: The relationship of college binge drinking to state binge drinking rates and selected state alcohol control policies." American Journal of Public Health. 2005, 95(3):441-446.
  21. Weschler, H. et al. "Alcohol use and problems at colleges banning alcohol: Results of a national survey." Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 62:133-141. 2001.
  22. Nelson, T.F. et al. "The state sets the rate: The relationship among state-specific college binge drinking, state binge drinking rates, and selected state alcohol control policies." American Journal of Public Health. 95: 441-446. 2005.
  23. Weschler, H. et al. "Colleges respond to student binge drinking: Reducing student demand or limiting access." Journal of American College Health. 52: 159-168. 2004.
  24. Greenbaum, P.E.; Del Boca, F.K.; Darkes, J.; et al. Variation in the drinking trajectories of freshmen college students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 73:229–238, 2005. Graph in NIAAA College Bulletin, NIH Publication No. 07–5010. Printed November 2007. Online at http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/1College_Bulletin-508_361C4E.pdf
  25. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Underage Alcohol Use among Full-Time College Students. Issue 31, 2006. Online at http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k6/college/collegeunderage.htm
  26. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2001. Online at http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda/2k1nhsda/vol1/chapter3.htm

December 2008

CSPI homepage Alcohol Home