The Connection Between Suicide and Binge Drinking Among College Students
Alcohol Consumption in College-Aged Adults
College is a time of transition, during which many students embark on the journey toward adulthood. But with the added responsibilities of classes and career planning comes a new sense of freedom associated with living on one’s own. College students are free to try new things, and for many, this includes the consumption of alcohol. Unfortunately, this new freedom can often lead to alcohol misuse and binge drinking.
What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is a dangerous pattern of drinking that results in an excessive consumption of alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that this typically occurs when a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.08% or more. This usually corresponds to 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men within a 2-hour period.1
Information from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that of the 133.1 million people who consume alcohol in the U.S., approximately 45% participated in binge drinking in the last month. And among these binge drinkers, adults aged 18 to 25 comprised the largest portion (i.e., 29%) of this group.2
So how common is binge drinking on college campuses?
According to the aforementioned NSDUH survey, 49.3% of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol within the last month, and 27.4% of this population engaged in binge drinking.1 Plus, according to a review of multiple binge-drinking studies, college students drink more—and more frequently—than their peers who don’t attend college.3
Many factors can influence the high rate of binge drinking among college students, including increased social pressures to drink, the presence of fraternities and sororities, stress related to classes and grades, unstructured time, dorm living, relationship issues, and the widespread availability of alcohol.
Risks of Binge Drinking
Regardless of the reasons behind binge drinking, the practice poses many serious risks and consequences. These include:4
- Injuries due to vehicle crashes, burns, falls, etc.
- Alcohol poisoning/overdose.
- Violence (e.g., sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide, suicide, etc.).
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Memory and learning difficulties.
- Chronic diseases (e.g., high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease).
- Cancers (e.g., breast, liver, colon, esophagus, etc.).
- Unintended pregnancy.
- Poor pregnancy outcomes (e.g., stillbirth and miscarriage).
- Babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome.
BORGs: Blackout Rage Gallons
Among current potentially troubling trends related to college students and drinking is the use of blackout rage gallons (aka BORGS). Often housed in plastic gallon containers, BORGs often comprise a mixture of alcohol, flavor enhancers, electrolytes, and water. Gaining visibility on TikTok and other social channels, this trend has fueled controversy as both a potentially dangerous binge-drinking device as well as a harm-reduction tool. Proponents suggest it allows BORG drinkers to limit the amount of alcohol they consume in an evening and to potentially prevent anyone from adding party drugs to their drinks without their knowledge. Still, BORGs have been linked to binge-drinking episodes with troubling outcomes at various colleges.
The Link Between Alcohol and Suicide
Alcohol and suicide are tragically linked. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 22% of U.S. suicides involve alcohol intoxication.5
The connection seems to make sense, as people experiencing suicidal thoughts may turn to alcohol for comfort and to numb pain. Plus, for those who are depressed, drinking can interfere with depression treatment. Even for those who don’t have an alcohol use disorder, drinking can have a harmful effect on depressive symptoms.6
Because binge drinking is so prevalent among college students, the risk of suicide is a major concern. In fact, according to at least one pilot study, suicide was the second leading cause of death among college students.7
Key Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide
Suicidal thoughts may develop in college-aged adults for several reasons. Many of the same factors that influence binge drinking also increase the risk of suicide. Factors for suicide in college students include mental health issues, relationship issues, loneliness, homesickness, culture shock, and academic and work-related stress.8
Warning signs of suicide include:9
- Withdrawal from family and friends.
- Giving away important items.
- Making a will.
- Researching ways to die.
- Exhibiting reckless behavior (e.g., driving extremely fast).
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
- Eating and/or sleeping more or less than usual.
- Using alcohol or other substances more than usual.
- Talking about wanting to die, personal guilt or shame, and/or being a burden to others.
- Expressing feelings of emptiness and hopelessness or of being trapped and having no reason to live.
- Feeling extremely sad, anxious, agitated, and/or angry.
- Experiencing seemingly unbearable emotional or physical pain.
If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, seek immediate assistance by calling or texting 988 or by chatting with someone at 988lifeline.org. It’s imperative to address any struggles with binge drinking and alcohol dependence by seeking treatment at an accredited rehab facility, many of which can treat co-occurring disorders such as alcohol use disorder and anxiety or depression issues at the same time.