Get Help Today. (800) 516-4357

College Alcohol Abuse & Binge Drinking

College drinking is a prevalent issue that poses various dangers to students. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that over half of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 have drunk alcohol in the past month. Drinking too much in college can result in alcohol poisoning, unsafe behaviors, accidents, injuries, being victimized, academic issues, and, most dangerously, an increased risk of alcohol addiction. This article discusses the reasons for college drinking, the link between binge drinking and alcoholism, and key facts about college drinking and its effects.

Struggling with Alcohol Addiction? Get Help Now

Young adults often drink alcohol in social situations. College binge drinking is a typical way young people break free from the stress of a high-pressure academic environment. However, some young people don’t partake.

In the 2022 NSDUH, 906,000 men who were full-time college students admitted to binge drinking. That’s compared to 1,862,000 men in the same age group who weren’t in college. Studies like this suggest that at least some college students are recognizing the dangers of college binge drinking and cutting back.

Drinking too much can have wide-ranging consequences, which can include a higher risk for the following: 

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Unsafe behaviors
  • Accidents and injuries 
  • Being victim of a crime
  • Issues with academic performance and grades 

Binge and heavy drinking regularly, especially when underage, can increase the risk for alcohol addiction, formally known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). College drinking can be very dangerous and have lasting negative effects.

Drinking Alcohol During College

College students have more opportunities to consume alcohol than their peers who are not enrolled. College parties, sporting events, Greek life, and socializing regularly include alcohol.

While underage drinking is a problem, the issue really comes in with how easy it is to take things too far. Drinking too much can cause many social, emotional, behavioral, and physical problems.

Binge drinking is drinking more than five drinks in a sitting for a man or more than four drinks for a woman. Some college students drank more—a behavior that is called high-intensity drinking. In 2018, researchers writing for Alcohol Research said this type of drinking is often connected to a person’s 21st birthday.

Drinking like this comes with substantial risks.

Key Facts About College & Alcohol

Key Facts

  • More than 1,500 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries annually.
  • Close to 700,000 students per year between the ages of 18 and 24 report being assaulted by another student who was drinking. Sexual assaults often involve alcohol.
  • Nearly a quarter of college students have drinking problems and experience negative academic consequences related to drinking, such as missing classes, poor performance on tests, and dropping grades.
  • According to the 2022 NSDUH, 1,090,000 college students have AUD.
  • About 16% to 30% of college students report driving after drinking. Close to half of all traffic fatalities among students are related to alcohol.

Why Do College Students Use Alcohol?

College is a time of experimentation. Often, college is one of the first times that students have been left on their own without adult supervision. 

Alcohol is the most commonly abused addictive substance by all adolescents. Many times, students begin college with alcohol-related issues. Unstructured time, peer pressure, lax enforcement of underage drinking rules, and easy access to alcohol can all be factors in why college students drink more. 

New freshmen are adjusting to college life and trying to balance their expectations as well as social pressures and academic rigors with a lack of direct parental involvement. This can make them more likely to engage in problematic drinking behaviors. 

Alcohol can help to lower inhibitions and ease social anxiety in the short term. Alcohol is often used to calm nerves and help college students relax. As a result, it may be used as a coping mechanism for stress.

Another major factor involved in college drinking is environment. Students involved with fraternities, sororities, and athletics drink more than students not involved in Greek life or college athletics. College fraternities and sororities have long been associated with wild parties and heavy drinking. 

Overall, alcohol is a big part of college culture. The desire to “fit in” can be a major factor in why college students drink alcohol, often to excess.

Understanding the Link Between Binge Drinking & Alcoholism 

In the 2022 NSDUH, 26.8% of male college students between the ages of 18 and 22 engaged in binge drinking the month prior, compared to 23.9% of males in the same age group who weren’t in college.

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a pattern of alcohol consumption that raises your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter or higher.

How much do you have to drink to raise your BAC to 0.08? Typically, this will mean five drinks for a man or four drinks for a woman in a two-hour period. However, younger and smaller people might drink less and still reach this BAC.

Binge drinking is harmful or problematic alcohol use that can be especially dangerous. It can lead to the following issues:

Binge drinking at a young age before the brain is fully developed, such as adolescence, can interfere with normal brain development. It can have lasting effects on cognition, memory, and attention, and it can cause social deficits.

Another serious issue related to binge drinking is the heightened risk for developing an alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. Alcoholism is the compulsive and chronic use of alcohol. 

Alcohol makes changes to the brain chemistry and function. Repeated exposure, especially at high levels through binge drinking, can cause alcohol dependence. This can mean that a person will suffer withdrawal symptoms when alcohol wears off, causing them to want to drink more to counteract the lows. Binge drinking increases the odds of alcoholism.

What Are the Dangers of Abusing Alcohol During College?

Alcohol abuse during college can have both short-term and long-term ramifications. 

  • Unsafe sex: In the short term, alcohol abuse can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors, which can include unsafe sexual practices. This can cause unwanted pregnancy and the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Health issues: Alcohol abuse can also trigger a variety of health issues, as alcohol impacts virtually all of the tissues in your body. This can include alcohol poisoning, overdose, organ damage, blackouts, and hangovers the next day.
  • Impaired decision-making abilities: Alcohol changes the way that you think and act, lowering inhibitions, making it harder to think through consequences and make good decisions, and reducing impulse control. This makes it more likely to be involved in an accident or become injured.
  • Increased risk of being a victim of crime and motor vehicle accidents: Alcohol also increases your odds for being victim of a crime, including physical and sexual assault. Rates of traffic injuries, motor vehicle crashes, and deaths all rise when alcohol is a factor.
  • Academic problems: Abusing alcohol during college can greatly impact students academically. It can lead to poor performance in classes, failing tests, declining grades, missing classes, and the potential loss of a scholarship as a result. Student athletes who drink run the risk of losing their ability to compete or even attend the school.
  • Relationship problems: Relationships are frequently damaged by alcohol abuse, and interpersonal problems are common.
  • Increased risk of addiction: Regular alcohol abuse raises the risk for alcoholism and long-lasting problems with alcohol. The short-term buzz of drinking alcohol in college is outweighed by the overwhelming possible risk factors and hazards that can be life-altering. 

Studies show that, on average, college students experience 102 alcohol-related consequences in their four years at college, ranging from hangovers and missed work or school to feeling embarrassment the next day and being pressured into unwanted sexual encounters.

Can College Students Overdose on Alcohol?

Between 2020 and 2021, excessive alcohol use was responsible for about 178,000 deaths. This statistic is an increase of 29% from 2016 to 2017. Some of these deaths are attributed to an alcohol overdose—also known as alcohol poisoning.

The more you drink, the higher your odds for an alcohol poisoning overdose. College students tend to drink more in a sitting and engage in problematic alcohol consumption at high rates.

Common symptoms of alcohol poisoning include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Loss of consciousness and inability to wake up
  • Low body temperature, often signified by bluish skin, paleness, and being cold to the touch
  • Seizures

What Should You Do if Someone Is Overdosing on Alcohol?

An alcohol overdose is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate action. If you suspect an alcohol overdose, follow these steps:

  1. Call 911.
  2. Give all the pertinent information you have to emergency personnel, including how much the person drank, what type of alcohol they consume and when, if any other substances are involved, if they have any medical or mental health conditions that you know of, and personal information.
  3. Do not leave the person unattended. 
  4. Place them on their side in the rescue position with their head to the side to prevent choking on vomit if they are unconscious. 
  5. If the person is awake, try to keep them conscious. Keep them from choking on their vomit by sitting them up and assisting them if they do vomit.
  6. In the event of a suspected overdose, it is essential to get help. Do not be afraid to get help. The person could suffer long-term harm or even die.

How Do Gender & Geographics Impact Alcohol Abuse at College?

Traditionally, male college students drink more than female college students, but this is changing. 

In 2022, the NSDUH found that 45.7% of college men drank alcohol compared to 51.8% of women. More women are binge drinking, as 26.8% of male college students reported binge drinking versus 29.3% of females. However, 9.3% of males reported heavy drinking as opposed to 6.2% of female students.

In general, the differences in alcohol use between the sexes are fairly small. Both male and female college students commonly abuse alcohol.

Geographics can impact college alcohol use, as colleges that are more remote and have less access to alternative activities are more prone to being dubbed “party schools” and have higher rates of alcohol consumption than those that are set in big cities. 

A big predictor of college drinking is going to be the college culture. Colleges that have a pervasive “party” feel to them are going to have more college drinking and peer pressure to do so.

How to Prepare Students for College & Alcohol

One of the biggest protective factors for college alcohol abuse is the continuing influence of parents. As a parent of a college student, it is important to talk about the effects and hazards of alcohol use. 

Explain the potential dangers of underage alcohol abuse, what the possible penalties and dangers can be, and the numerous adverse consequences. Stay in touch with your student throughout college, and keep the lines of communication open. Be part of their daily life as much as possible, listening for signs of potential problems with alcohol. Regular check-ins can be helpful, even if they are just short calls. 

It can also be helpful to be aware of and discuss the college alcohol policies at the student’s particular school. Most schools have alcohol prevention programs that provide outreach and sober activities for college students to minimize alcohol use.

How Can College Students Quit Drinking?

If you’re struggling with college binge drinking or another type of unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you can make life better.

Follow these steps:

  • Talk to a doctor. Visit your family physician, a doctor on campus, or another medical professional. Explain how much you’re drinking, and ask for help.
  • Enroll in treatment. If you’ve been drinking heavily for long periods, you may need medications to quit safely. A medical detox program can provide those therapies, and your doctor can help you get enrolled.
  • Participate in therapy. Counseling sessions can help you understand why you started drinking and what you need to do to quit.
  • Surround yourself with support. Tell your friends you’re no longer interested in alcohol.

Your treatment team will give you the tools you need to stay sober. However, these steps can help you get started.

Support for College Students

In general, a mix of strategies is likely going to be optimal in reducing college alcohol abuse. These can include educational programs, limited availability of alcohol on or near campus, stricter underage drinking law enforcement, and heavy parental involvement. 

Students who are facing problems with alcohol have a variety of resources to turn to, which can include the following:

  • Individual college resources: Each college or university will have resources and programs for students with substance abuse issues. Reach out to the specific school in question for more information.
  • NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator: This resource is provided by NIAAA. It offers resources on treatment information and where and how to find treatment when needed.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): This peer support and mutual self-help group is located all over the country and online to support people who wish to stop drinking. There are often chapters at or near college campuses that cater to students.
  • Primary care provider (PCP): Individual doctors often offer resources and referrals to treatment options or community-based programs for college students.
Updated April 29, 2024
  1. Detailed Tables 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). (2020). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking 2021. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. Magnitude and Trends in Heavy Episodic Drinking, Alcohol-Impaired Driving, and Alcohol-Related Mortality and Overdose Hospitalizations Among Emerging Adults of College Ages 18-24 in the United States, 1988-2014. (July 2017). Journal and Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
  4. College Drinking. (June 2022). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  5. Is Alcohol Consumption Associated with Poor Academic Achievement in University Students? (October 2013). International Journal of Preventive Medicine.
  6. Predicting Driving After Drinking Over Time Among College Students: The Emerging Role of Injunctive Normal Perceptions. (September 2012). Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
  7. Substance Use in Adolescence. Office of Population Affairs.
  8. Understanding Binge Drinking. (December 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  9. Binge Drinking. (January 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  10. College Students Suffer More than 100 Alcohol-Related Consequences, Study Finds. (October 2022). Penn State.
  11. Alcohol Poisoning Deaths. (January 2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  12. Facts on College Student Drinking. (March 2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  13. Daily College Student Drinking Patterns Across the First Year of College. (July 2012). Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
  14. Heavy Drinking in College Students Is Associated With Accelerated Gray Matter Volumetric Decline over a 2 Year Period. (September 2017). Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
  15. College Students’ Evaluations of Heavy Drinking: The Influence of Gender, Age, and College Status. (November 2012). Journal of College Student Development.
  16. Perceptions of Binge Drinking as Problematic Among College Students. (April 2017). Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education.
  17. Fall Semester – A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking. (August 2022). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  18. College Alcohol Policies. College Drinking Prevention.
  19. NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  20. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2022). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
  21. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. (November 2023) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  22. NSDUH: Detailed Tables. (November 2023) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  23. High-Intensity Drinking. (January 2018). Alcohol Research.
  24. Deaths from Excessive Alcohol Use in the United States. (April 2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Take The Next Step Now
Call Us Now Check Insurance