The High Risks and High Costs of College Drinking

We all want to get the most out of our college experience. For many, going away to school is the first real chance to get away from the parents, meet new people, explore your intellectual potential, and yes, to party.

Hearing the same message over and over again about the dangers of “binge drinking” can start to sound empty, but the fact is, it’s a very real problem that remains on the rise. You needn’t look much further than the nightly news to find examples of binge drinking and all the dangers and misery they can bring to the college campuses in your own backyard.

And just so we know what we’re dealing with, binge drinking is defined as four drinks in two hours for a woman and five drinks in two hours for a man; both result in a .08 blood-alcohol-content (BAC) level. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 80% of college students admit to using alcohol, and of those, around 50% engaged in binge drinking in the last two weeks.

Binge drinking can have adverse consequences on more than just your academic performance; it can endanger you and the people around you. If you truly want to get the most out of college, it’s important to educate yourself on how to party responsibly.

Part I: College Drinking and Health

When it comes to college age binge drinking behavior, the problem isn’t always the alcohol itself, it’s the decision making when drinking too much. A blacked out or otherwise impaired person is much more prone to having accidents, acting aggressively or engaging in risky behavior. The following NIAA statistics relate to college students between the ages of 18 and 24.

Injury and death

  • An estimated 1,825 students die yearly of unintended alcohol-related accidents, including motor vehicle accidents.
  • Another 599,000 will be seriously injured.
  • More than 150,000 students suffer drinking-related health problems.
  • 1.2 to 1.5% of students attempt suicide on account of drinking or drug use.
  • 54% of binge drinkers have experienced significant memory loss at least once in the last year.

Assaults and sexual assaults

  • 400,000 students report engaging in unprotected sex while under the influence.
  • Of those, 100,000 report being too intoxicated to remember giving consent.
  • 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who’s been drinking.
  • 97,000 students are the victims of alcohol related sexual assault or rape.

DUIs and Other Vehicular Offenses

  • 3.36 million students report having driven under the influence.
  • 30% of students who drank in the past year admitted to driving after drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
  • About one half of all fatal car crashes among 18- to 24-year-olds are alcohol related, many of which are college students.

There are a host of other factors to consider. Increased alcohol consumption can trigger aggression in susceptible students, which can lead to property damage, encounters with the police or even violence towards yourself or others. Studies also show that binge drinkers are much more likely than non-bingers to take other illicit drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine due to their lowered inhibition.

Part II: College Drinking and Rape

There’s been a lot of attention in the media recently about the dangers of rape as related to drinking on the campus environment. Recent scandals at schools like Penn State, Notre Dame and the University of Montana have shined some much needed light on what has become a growing problem.

According to the Cal poly San Luis Obispo Health & Counseling Services, roughly 90% of all reported rapes and sexual assaults occurred when alcohol had been used by either the attacker or the victim; 55% of females and 75% of males involved in ‘acquaintance rape’ admitted to using alcohol prior to the incident. Most drinking-related sexual assault occur when both parties are drinking, and generally the perpetrator is known to the victim.

By now, the relationship between binge drinking and sexual assault is well known. To begin with, studies show that young people come to the drinking experience with the belief that it will make them more confident and more attractive. Furthermore, impaired thinking can quickly make for miscommunications between partygoers; the perpetrator might assume the victim is more interested than they really are. When an assault takes place, the alcohol distorts the assailant’s ability to recognize resistance and it diminishes the victim’s ability to react or resist.

It’s important to remember that sexual assault is a crime no matter the circumstances, and should always be treated as such, regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

Part III: College Drinking and Hazing

We’ve all seen movies that glorify the hazing found on college campuses. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the effects of too much alcohol-fueled hazing can be dangerous – even lethal. Hazing is defined as a way to initiate a new member into an established order by way of forcing them to engage in strenuous, humiliating or dangerous tasks. In a college setting, this typically means sports teams, fraternities or sororities.

According to the National Study of Student Hazing, roughly 55% of college students involved in said clubs, teams or organizations have experienced hazing. As it stands, hazing is seen as a normal part of campus culture. Some of the more outlandish hazing practices include isolation, humiliation, kidnapping, sleep deprivation and forced alcohol consumption. Roughly 36% of students say that they would never report an incident of hazing because, “There’s no one to tell.” Another 27% remain silent because they believe, “Adults won’t handle it right.” It seems clear that more needs to be done when it comes to educating incoming students on what’s acceptable and safe when it comes to hazing rituals.

Part IV: Prevention

Colleges continue to work hard to address the issues surrounding the binge drinking epidemic and hopefully implement some real, lasting changes. The most successful efforts at combating binge drinking will include a healthy mix of prevention, intervention and treatment targeting individuals, the student body as a whole and the larger community. is a great resource for prevention strategies.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

When it comes to avoiding the pitfalls of binge drinking in college, you are your very best advocate and ally. Remember what it was that brought you to the college in the first place: You’re looking to build a bright future for yourself. You need to be smart, to live above the influence. If you do, you’ll never have to worry about becoming just another statistic.