The link between drinking and sexual assault puts college students at risk of being attacked.

College sexual assault statistics show that alcohol is involved in around half of the cases of sexual assault on college campuses. Overall, more than 97,000 college sexual assault cases linked to drinking happen each year. These cases include situations where:

  • The attacker is drinking
  • The sexual assault victims are drinking
  • Both attackers and victims are drinking

About 90% of the time, the attacker knows the victim. Attackers and victims often are not close but know one another casually. Although alcohol does not cause sexual assault, drinking is a risk factor that can make it more likely to occur.

Binge Drinking Culture on College Campuses

Because most underage drinking is done to get drunk, teens are at risk of binge drinking. In fact, close to 90% of the alcohol consumed by young people is during a binge. College binge drinking statistics show that close to 61% of underage drinkers admitted to binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking is defined as:

  • For males, five or more drinks on the same occasion at least one day in the previous month
  • For females, four or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the previous month
  • Heavy alcohol use means that someone binge drank on five or more days in the previous month

College Students and Alcohol Abuse

College drinking culture is linked to risk of teen drinking and alcohol abuse in college. By the age of 18, 60% of young people have had a drink. However, the problem is not limited to casual drinking in young people. College alcohol abuse statistics show that as of 2016:

  • Close to 38% of students admitted to binge drinking in college the prior month
  • Roughly 10.5% of college students admitted to heavy alcohol use during the previous month

Sexual Assault in College

One of the riskiest times for teens and sexual assault is during the first few months of the first and second semesters at college. Teen alcohol abuse can increase this risk. College freshman drinking statistics show that 15% of college females were assaulted while incapacitated during their first year at school. However, the risk of sexual assault goes beyond freshman year. Studies project that nearly 5% of college women may be raped annually and that up to 25% of college women may be sexually assaulted during their college career. Sexual assault includes many different kinds of attacks like:

  • Forced touching
  • Forced kissing
  • Coerced sex
  • Rape including oral, anal and vaginal sex

Although all women are at risk of sexual assault, those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual are at a higher risk than heterosexual women.

Alcohol and sexual assault are closely linked. When reports about college rape cases get publicity, they often involve drinking. 

  • In 2006, the Duke lacrosse sexual assault allegations hit the news. Although the players were eventually exonerated, they were charged with raping a stripper during an alcohol-fueled party. The district attorney in charge of the case was disbarred and sent to jail for holding back evidence that helped show the players were innocent of the charges.
  • In 2008, University of the Pacific basketball player Beckett Brennan accused three male student basketball players of rape after drinking at a party. Although no criminal charges were filed, two of the males were suspended from the school and one was expelled.
  • In 2013, five Vanderbilt football players were accused of rape of a drunk woman who had lost consciousness. Four of the five were convicted and are serving time in prison, while the fifth agreed to a plea deal.
  • In 2015, the Brock Turner sexual assault case hit national headlines. The former Stanford swimmer was charged with sexually assaulting a woman who was drunk and unconscious. The charges led to a conviction and jail time.

Alcohol was involved in all of these high profile cases. Sometimes the attacker was drinking, sometimes the victim was drinking, and sometimes both were drinking.

Alcohol and the Perpetrator

Doctors think that alcohol and sexual aggression are linked. In fact, drinking may increase the risk of sexual aggression in attackers. Research shows that heavy drinkers are more likely to have personality traits linked to sexual assault, like antisocial behavior. Perpetrators of sexual assault most often seek out settings where drinking takes place, like bars and parties to identify potential victims. Attackers may use alcohol as a date rape drug or to:

  • Increase arousal
  • Cause disinhibition
  • Lead to aggressive behavior
  • Be used as an excuse for behavior choices

Alcohol and the Victim

Among college sexual assault victims, those who drink alcohol are at higher risk of attack. One reason for this is that women who drink may be less able to defend themselves while drunk and less aware of what is happening around them. In fact, about half of victims had been drinking before being attacked. Sadly, drinking often causes victims to be ashamed of what the attacker did to them. Victims who drink often:

  • Feel distressed
  • Blame themselves
  • Are scared others will blame them
  • Worry they will not be believed

In addition, alcohol and date rape drugs may be combined. In turn, the mixture may make sexual assault even more likely, because the risk of blackout is increased. While sometimes the victim takes the drug on their own, in other cases, the drugs are slipped into the victim’s drink. Drugs linked to sexual assault include:

  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
  • Benzodiazepines like Rohypnol, the brand name for flunitrazepam
  • Ketamine
  • Barbiturates
  • Chloral hydrate
  • Methaqualone
  • Opioids
  • Hallucinogens

Unfortunately, after an attack, some victims may turn to substance use to cope with the trauma. Some common substances include alcohol and drugs. Sexual assault victims may then fall victim again, this time to a substance use disorder. The effects of alcohol abuse or teen drug abuse on victims can then compound the problems they face. Further, because drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, the victim might be at risk of additional assault as well.

Where to Get Help

If you are in a dangerous situation and need help, call 911. If you are out of immediate danger and would like to report a sexual assault or some other crime, you can contact your local police to file the report. However, only about 20% of sexual assault victims report their attacks to the police.

Because the percentage of college sexual assaults that involve alcohol is almost 50%, alcohol and sexual assault on college campuses is a big issue for schools. Title IX sexual assault guidelines require that colleges have resources for sexual assault victims. Campus or off-site counselors can also help victims after an attack. In addition, if the attacker was a student, your school is required to take steps certain steps and they may be able to help you feel more safe on campus by helping you change dorms or class schedules, or even obtaining a no-contact order. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, help is available. Our compassionate professionals are experts not only in alcohol abuse treatment for adults, but also in teen drug rehab and teen alcohol rehab as well. Contact us today to learn more about available treatment options.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problem. “Sexual Assault and Alcohol: What the Res[…]ch Evidence Tells Us.” Published 2016. Accessed July 10, 2019.

U.S. Department of Education Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention. “Sexual Violence and Alcohol and Other Drug Use on Campus.” Published August 2008. Accessed July 10, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Sexual Assault on College Campuses.”  Updated September 13, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2019.

Wilson D, Barstow D. “All Charges Dropped in Duke Case.” Published April 12, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Drinking and Driving.” Published October 2012. Accessed June 22, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage Drinking.” Updated February 2017. Accessed June 22, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Di[…] of College Drinking.” Published August 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…]Drug Use and Health.” Published September 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.

American Psychological Association. “Sexual Violence in the News: Coping Skills for Survivors.” Published October 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.