There is undoubtedly a drinking culture that permeates college campuses. There’s this feeling that drinking in college isn’t just okay, but it’s a socially accepted norm and somewhat of a rite of passage. Most of us have those Animal House images of college where it’s one big party full of alcohol around every turn, and this isn’t far off the mark.
Unfortunately, this culture that embraces and accepts huge amounts of alcohol creates serious and sometimes deadly consequences. Many of these consequences have been in the news headlines lately, as sexual assaults and violence related to alcohol have become national topics of discussion.
There have also been instances where young men joining fraternities drink so much that they ultimately die, and there’s, of course, the ongoing conversations surrounding things like decision-making and safe sexual practices, the potential for legal issues, car accidents, injuries, and alcohol poisoning.
Despite the very real consequences of excessive drinking, college students don’t seem deterred, and it’s leading many researchers to look at just how prevalent alcoholism with college students is.
- Nearly 60 percent of college students aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month according to one national survey, and two out of three engaged in binge drinking during that timeframe
- Around 1,825 college students aged 18 to 24 are estimated to die from unintentional injuries related to alcohol every year
- There are more than 696,000 students believed to be assaulted each year by another student when drinking is involved
- Between the ages of 18 and 24, there are around 97,000 students annually that experience sexual assault or date rape when alcohol was involved
- 1 in 4 students in college say they’ve suffered adverse academic consequences related to drinking including performing poorly and missing classes
- Binge drinkers who drank at least three times a week were six times more likely than their peers who didn’t binge drink to do badly on school work. They were also five times more likely to miss a class
- 20 percent of college student meet the defined criteria for an alcohol use disorder
- Thousands of college students visit emergency rooms each year because of alcohol poisoning.
There are also many college students who don’t really grasp just how much they’re consuming or the fact that alcoholism with college students is so prevalent.
For example, binge drinking is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration at 0.08 g/dL, and this can occur after only four drinks in two hours for women and five for men. Many college students are drinking far more than this on a regular basis.
So why is alcoholism with college students and alcohol abuse so common? There are many things that are part of the equation. For young people, it’s their first taste of being independent and away from home, which leads to experimentation and a lack of self-control. There’s also alcohol readily available, and socializing is a big part of the college life and experience. Also, drinking regularly leads students to build a tolerance, so they drink more and more to get drunk.
As noted above, around 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder, and since college students’ brains are still developing, heavy drinking during these formative years can increase their likelihood of becoming an alcoholic later.
For example, there was a study from researchers at the San Diego State University Department of Psychology and the Scripps Research Institute showing that college students who binge drank more than three times within a two-week period were 19 times more likely to develop alcoholism as compared to non-binge drinkers.
Some of the signs of alcoholism with college students include:
- Losing self-control regarding how much alcohol is consumed
- Making poor decisions related to school, finances, legal situations, health or social situations
- Not keeping up with responsibilities including academics
- Changing in sleep habits and patterns
- Students who start hanging out with new social circles
- A student develops a tolerance for alcohol
- The student spends more time drinking and also more time dealing with hangovers
- Changes in mood
- Attempts to stop drinking that fail
- Problems with relationships
If parents, friends or loved ones see any of these red flags, they may need to speak with a professional about the next steps. It’s unfortunate that alcoholism with college students is looked at with such a casual attitude because it contributes to many deaths, injuries, assaults and even the development of later drinking problems every year.