College Binge Drinking & Alcohol Abuse: Risks & Impacts
It should come as no surprise that college drinking can become problematic, especially since many students are still underage. However, this issue may be more serious than many people realize. According to a national survey, more than half of full-time college students ages 18 through 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and one-third engaged in binge drinking during the same period of time.1
The various dangers associated with those statistics can have lifelong consequences. The purpose of this page is to educate readers about the realities and risks of college drinking and to provide resources to turn to if you or someone you know needs help.
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College Drinking Statistics and Prevalence
Some alarming statistics regarding college drinking include:1
- Over 1,500 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related, unintentional injuries each year.
- Approximately 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted during their time in college and the majority of those assaults involve alcohol or drugs.
- Almost 700,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking each year.
- In 2019, almost 10% of full-time college students met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Why Do College Students Drink?
The reasons why college students drink vary since individual students are unique. For some, drinking is a coping mechanism or a way to deal with the stress and pressures of daily life. For other students, drinking helps them feel less inhibited and more comfortable in social situations. Some students who drink might just be exploring pushing previously-forbidden boundaries while living on their own for the first time. It can be easy to forget that many college students are still teenagers, after all, and just want to fit in with their peers (and sometimes push the status quo).
Social camaraderie, in particular, is frequently cited as a reason for drinking amongst college students, with most college drinking done in social settings.2 Drinking has become such a part of college culture that it is normalized for many students.2 However, what often causes more negative consequences than social drinking is the act of drinking to relieve stress and anxiety; drinking as a coping mechanism for mood enhancement or to reduce tension is associated with greater long-term problems than social drinking.2
Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
In order to identify problem drinking, you must first understand what an AUD is. AUD is characterized by an inability to control or discontinue the use of alcohol, despite it having a negative impact on one’s occupational, social, emotional, or physical health.3 It is considered a brain disease and is on a spectrum of mild, moderate, or severe.3
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration to .08%. For men, that is approximately 5 drinks in two hours, and for women approximately 4 drinks in two hours.4 Binge drinking, or any type of habitual drinking, is considered a problem when it begins to negatively impact a person’s life.
Consequences of College-Age Alcohol Abuse
For college students, some of the consequences of heavy drinking to be aware of include:1
- Poor classroom performance.
- Putting one’s self in high-risk situations such as drinking and driving.
- Having unsafe sex.
- Becoming the victim of sexual assault.
- Vandalism or other criminal activities.
Alcohol Poisoning and Overdose
Thousands of college students are taken to the hospital each year for alcohol poisoning or overdose.1 Alcohol overdose occurs when a person consumes so much alcohol that the parts of the brain that control basic life-support like breathing and heart rate begin to shut down.1
Warning signs of alcohol overdose can include:1
- Mental confusion.
- Inability to stay awake.
- Slowed or irregular breathing.
- Slowed heart rate.
- Clammy skin.
- Low body temperature/pale-bluish skin.
Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage or death, so if you suspect someone might be at risk, call 911 immediately.
College students should also be aware of Good Samaritan laws in the event a friend or someone they are with is in trouble. Many college campuses have Good Samaritan Policies written in their student handbooks or code of conduct that provide amnesty for alcohol and drug violations in the event of a medical emergency.6
Resources for College Students
Student health services on campus can be a good starting point for students who need resources to address alcohol-related issues. Alcohol rehab can also help college students recover from substance abuse and return to a healthy lifestyle. There are also several hotlines that can offer help and resources to anyone with concerns about drug or alcohol abuse 24/7.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline: 1-800-662-HELP
- com hotline: 1-866-361-0367
- National Council on Alcohol and Drug dependence: 1-800-622-2255
- Al-Anon and Ala-teen hotline: 800-356-9996
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, October). College Drinking.
- Labrie, J.W., Hummer, J.F., & Pederson, E.R. (2007). Reasons for Drinking in the College Context: the Differential Role of Risk and Social Motivator. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68(3), 393–398.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021 April). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 30). Binge Drinking.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019). College AIM Alcohol Intervention Matrix.
- Gross, L. (2013, December). ‘Good Samaritan’ policy encourages students to dial 911.