By: Kerry Nenn
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 10-20% of college students have an alcohol use disorder.
- Nearly 55% of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the past month.
- More than 33% of college students of the same age reported binge drinking in the past month.
These numbers are more than statistics. Each number represents a college student – a young adult at risk due to alcohol abuse and binge drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short time period. For men, this means drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in two hours or less. For women, this means drinking four or more alcoholic beverages in two hours or less.
College Binge Drinking: Who’s at Risk?
Some young adults view drinking as a natural part of the college experience. In fact, many students believe that drinking alcohol is “just what students do.” But this philosophy can quickly take students down a risky path that ultimately requires alcohol rehab.
This seems to be particularly true for those involved with fraternities, sororities, and athletics. Students in these organizations have a higher rate of binge drinking than others. In 2018, a whopping 42% of student athletes reported having a binge drinking problem.
But jocks and Greeks aren’t the only ones at risk…
In general, young adults attending college tend to binge drink more than their peers. Researchers found that 33% of college students ages 18-22 reported binge drinking in the past month, compared to 28% of non-students of the same age. And 8.2% of college students reported heavy alcohol use in the past month, compared to 6.4% of non-students of the same age.
The episodes and patterns of excessive drinking put both the student and those around them at risk.
What Are the Consequences of College Binge Drinking?
When we look at the research, it’s clear that alcohol abuse among college students has numerous negative consequences.
Let’s look at some of the specific risks associated with college drinking:
Getting to class on time, completing assignments, and test-taking are all harder to accomplish when you’re under the influence of alcohol or hung over from a night of binge drinking. Around 25% of college students report experiencing academic consequences related to binge drinking.
The fall-out includes missing class, falling behind, performing poorly on papers and exams, and earning lower grades. In some cases, the consequences of binge drinking can cause students’ grades to reach the point of no return…meaning they flunk out of school.
From cuts, to broken bones, to concussions, college students who drink increase their risk of injury. Each year, 599,000 college students under the influence of alcohol unintentionally injure themselves.
Some students may also increase their risk of intentional self-harm by consuming alcohol. Those who struggle with depression or other mental health issues are already at highest risk of self-harm or suicide, and alcohol consumption can alter their mind to cause them to act irrationally, making these acts more likely to occur.
Alcohol can make a student more vulnerable to assault. Each year, 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
Sexual assault also commonly involves alcohol use. Researchers report that a majority of sexual assaults in college involve alcohol or other substances. One study found that 97,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year.
Many times, sexual predators seek out victims who have been binge drinking at a bar or campus party. These victims are often too incoherent to put up a fight, prone to passing out, and unable to recall specific details of the attack once sober.
Under the influence of alcohol, college students may commit acts they would never consider committing when sober. The most common crimes committed by intoxicated college students include vandalism, theft, assault, and driving under the influence.
Over three million college students drive under the influence of alcohol every year. And 11% of college students admit they’ve damaged property after a night of drinking.
At times, students may view these crimes as benign pranks or otherwise harmless acts. But there are often serious legal consequences, which can include expulsion from school, monetary fines, loss of driver’s license, and even jail time.
For college students, drinking can pose serious health risks that go way beyond minor injuries. Every year, over 22,000 college students are hospitalized due to alcohol overdose.
Heavy drinking can also cause long-term damage to the body. Every year, nearly 15,000 college students develop an alcohol-related health problem. These issues include high blood pressure, liver damage, and inflammation of the pancreas.
Excessive alcohol use during young adulthood can also impair brain development, affecting memory and cognition for the rest of a student’s life.
Life and Death
Yes, even lives are on the line when it comes to college drinking. Alcohol contributes to more than 1,800 deaths per year among college students. This includes alcohol-related injuries and motor-vehicle accidents.
It’s also important to mention that over half of all alcohol-related deaths are due to resulting health complications – cancer or liver disease – brought on by drinking too much over an extended period of time.
Frequent binge drinking and alcohol abuse during college can quickly lead to alcohol dependency. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that one in 10 college students meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Even if a student doesn’t develop an addiction to alcohol during college, the habits formed during that time can lead to alcoholism in the future. Too often, what is seen as a “phase” or “normal college life” becomes regular behavior, and the student develops patterns that later lead to alcohol dependence.
The consequences of alcohol addiction are often life-long, and they tend to negatively impact employment, finances, relationships, health — basically every aspect of a person’s life.
Nearly 15 million people in the U.S. are currently struggling with alcohol use disorder. However, only a small fraction (around 7.2%) receive the professional treatment they need.
Alcohol overdose happens when a person drinks more alcohol than the body can process. Also commonly referred to as “alcohol poisoning,” alcohol overdose occurs when a person has so much alcohol circulating in their blood that it causes areas of the brain to shut down – areas that are responsible for controlling basic life support functions.
Since high amounts of alcohol are consumed during binge drinking, alcohol overdoses are a common result of such incredibly dangerous drinking episodes.
Signs of an alcohol overdose include:
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty waking up or remaining conscious
- Slow breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Loss of gag reflex
- Clammy skin
- Low body temperature (indicated by chills or shivering)
- Bluish or pale skin
Alcohol overdose can cause permanent brain damage or even death. If someone who has been drinking exhibits these symptoms, do not hesitate to call 911. This is an extreme emergency and time is of the essence. A person experiencing an alcohol overdose needs immediate medical attention.
College Alcoholism: Treatment
With so many college students experiencing alcohol use disorder and participating in binge-drinking episodes, quality treatment programs are more important than ever. And alcohol rehabs around the nation are responding to the increased need.
In fact, many alcohol rehab centers now offer treatment programs that are specifically tailored to young adults. Thankfully, there are many resources and programs available for college students who need support.