Consequences of College Alcohol Abuse

In movies, books, and popular media, college students are typically portrayed as crazy party-goers who binge drink every weekend and participate in promiscuous sexual activities. Unfortunately, this portrayal may hit a little too close to home.

While it’s a well-known fact that college students drink alcohol, oftentimes the negative consequences of college alcohol abuse are swept under the rug and simply accepted as a rite of passage or tradition. Although some students will choose not to engage in unhealthy binge drinking habits, others may fall into an extremely harmful or even deadly way of living.

Why Do College Students Drink Alcohol?

College students are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder or addiction due to a number of significant factors.

  • Increased independence – In college, students have less contact with parents and adults in general, which leaves them with more choices to make on their own. While this time provides many opportunities for personal growth, it can also be very harmful if negative choices go unchecked for a long period of time.
  • Unstructured time – Students have full control over their schedules in college. They can choose to go to class (or not) and they can choose how they want to spend their time outside of class. This large amount of unstructured time can sometimes lead to trouble, as students may choose to spend it drinking with their friends instead of studying, working, or participating in an extracurricular activity on campus.
  • Harmful living environments – College and university campuses may passively or actively promote alcohol abuse, and in many cases, students view this type of behavior as a rite of passage or something they are expected to fulfill during this time in their lives. This type of living environment fosters harmful drinking habits.
  • Availability – Older college students can easily access alcohol legally but even underage students can obtain alcohol easily through older friends and lax enforcement of underage drinking policies at local bars, clubs, and parties.
  • Social pressures – College students are especially vulnerable to peer pressure and social expectations set on campus, especially during their first semester. They may also view binge drinking activities or hazing as an effective way to make friends and be accepted into a social circle.
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    Common Negative Effects of College Alcohol Abuse

    The effects of college alcohol abuse do not go unnoticed and a large amount of research has been done to study its impact on college students. Below are some of the most common consequences of alcohol abuse among college students.

    Poor Academic Performance

    The Harvard College Alcohol Study of American undergraduate students found that college students who consume large amounts of alcohol frequently are much more likely to miss class and fall behind academically than students who occasionally drink heavily or who don’t at all.1

    Verbal, Physical, and Sexual Assault

    In 2001, more than 696,000 students were assaulted by a student under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, 97,000 students experienced alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.2

    Development of Alcohol Addiction or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

    According to a study from 2008, the risk of alcohol use disorders was significantly greater for college students than their non-college-attending peers. In addition, college students were significantly less likely to receive drug and alcohol addiction treatment than their peers who were not attending college.3 While psychiatric disorders are also very common among the student population, students are especially at high risk of developing alcohol abuse disorders and about 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.4


    Unintentional alcohol-related injury deaths among college students ages 18-24 increased from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005 (3% increase). Within that age group, injury is the leading cause of death, with alcohol being the leading contributor. In fact, alcohol is a factor in more than 5,000 deaths in that age group each year.5

    What Can Be Done to Reduce College Drinking?

    According to the College Drinking, Changing the Culture campaign from The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, there are several things that can be done to curb the harmful habits of college drinking.

    First and foremost, providing students and parents with education on the topic of college drinking can aid in the prevention of alcohol abuse disorders. The harmful effects of alcohol should be discussed with students well before they reach college-age, as many students are already displaying harmful drinking habits in high school.

    Additionally, strong student and faculty leadership within the college community can help raise awareness about the issues related to college drinking and reduce the social acceptance and availability of alcoholic beverages on campus. Leadership can also provide increased mental health resources for students (especially those in their first year of college) to help them manage the social and educational stressors that students experience.

    If you or a family member is struggling with alcohol abuse within a college setting, it’s not too late to get help. Call now to speak with a member of the Briarwood Detox Center admissions team and let us help you begin a treatment plan today.


    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2741556/
    2. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.26.021304.144652?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&
    3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2734947/
    4. https://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/statistics/consequences.aspx
    5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701090/

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