Facts about Alcohol and College Students

College Students Image

The statistics are alarming. According to a recent College Task Force report to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), drinking in college students aged 18–24 contributes to almost 600,000 injuries, 97,000 sexual assaults (including date rape) and more than 1,800 student deaths each year in the United States.

If your son or daughter is attending college, here's what you must know: Excessive college drinking is extremely destructive and costly, and the often-devastating consequences affect every student, whether he or she drinks or not.

Many of us look back on our college years as one of the best times in our life—full of new experiences, new friendships and new-found independence, and overflowing with excitement and opportunity. But there's no doubt about it, for many college students today, it's also a time of excessive and/or binge drinking and dealing with the all-too-common results: academic problems, impaired driving, violence, vandalism, serious injuries and other health problems, and even death.

Research shows that the first 6 weeks are crucial to first-year college students. For many students, these first weeks away from home adjusting to college life coincide with heavy alcohol consumption, making the college transition even more difficult.

Some college students are at higher risk for alcohol misuse, including the following:

  • First-year students who live on campus
  • Male students
  • Caucasian students
  • Student-Athletes
  • Students who attend 4-year colleges or universities
  • Students who attend schools with a Division I sports program
  • Students who attend schools with fraternities/sororities
  • Students who attend schools in the Northeast or North Central regions of the U.S.
  • Students who attend schools in rural or small-town settings

Throughout the United States, colleges and universities are working with parents, students, and local resources, including law enforcement to address under-age and excessive drinking on (and off) their campuses and change the culture of college drinking. Alcohol education programs, such as AlcoholEdu for College, are offered—online and in classrooms—at schools around the country. Many schools also provide counseling to address issues with alcohol and help students who may have a problem—hopefully, before it becomes serious.

College Young Men Image

But, curbing college drinking is not easy. Although the negative effects of excessive and binge drinking are relatively well known, teens and young adults often feel invincible, and combined with newly-found independence, this is a dangerous combination.

To complicate matters further, a recent study indicated that college students who report binge drinking also report being happier than their peers who don't drink alcohol. The explanation for this is that "happiness" in college is directly related to "status," and binge drinking is often associated with higher social status. Although the results of this study do not show a cause and effect relationship between drinking and happiness, some students may jump on the information with a, "See, drinking in college means I'll be happier!" argument.

Advice for Parents about College Drinking

No, you probably won't be able to keep a watchful eye on your son or daughter in college, but there is still much you can do to help prevent problems with alcohol. Ideally, you've had regular discussions about drinking throughout your son or daughter's teenage years. But whether you have or you haven't, the weeks leading up to the start of college are a crucial time to have these discussions.

Here are some other tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the college or university's alcohol policies. Make sure your son or daughter is aware of these policies as well. Discuss the penalties for underage drinking and the consequences of misusing alcohol on and off campus. If either of you has questions, contact the school.
  • Call, text or Skype with your son or daughter often. Of course you want your son or daughter to achieve independence, but communication is essential—especially during the first few weeks and months of college. Talk to your son and daughter about residential hall life and about his or her roommate(s), schedule and classes.
  • Ask about on-campus activities. Many colleges and universities host a number of on-campus events (especially during the first few weeks of school) that are designed to give students something to do on the weekend. Check the school's website for information and encourage your son or daughter to attend activities that interest him or her.
  • If possible, visit occasionally during the semester. Of course, check with your son or daughter first. Many college students appreciate family visits, for example during Parents’/Family Weekend, and few will turn down an invitation to go shopping, to a movie, or out to dinner, especially if Mom and Dad are paying! (Remember to invite that roommate or new friend if you can.)
  • Stay involved. If you have questions or concerns about your son or daughter's adjustment to college life, including the issue of college drinking, talk to him or her about it. If you suspect there's a problem, contact the school as soon as possible to prevent it from escalating.

For more information, visit College Drinking—Changing the Culture.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 21 Aug 2012

Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015