The Washington Post

How much do college students really drink?

(Tracy A. Woodward - THE WASHINGTON POST) (By Tracy A. Woodward / THE WASHINGTON POST)

College drinking is in the news again, as seen in my colleague Jenna Johnson’s story, here, about what happened at the University of Virginia this week when the student newspaper tweeted about reports that authorities were raiding dormitories to find forbidden alcohol.

The tweets set off an alcohol dump by students who were afraid of being caught with their contraband — even though it turned out that there were no raids.


So how much do college kids really drink?

If you talk to any college student, or to anybody who knows a college student, or to anybody who has every walked past a college student, you know the answer is a lot. A lot a lot. And the consequences are staggering.

In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism goes so far as to say this:

 Abusive and underage college drinking are significant public health problems, and they exact an enormous toll on the intellectual and social lives of students on campuses across the United States.

The institute’s fact sheet on college drinking, includes more information and is available here. Keep these caveats in mind, though: Though the fact sheet was published last year,  some of the data comes from studies more than a decade ago and the figures below are estimates. Furthermore, some campus health workers have questioned the statistics and suggested that drinking prevention programs may have reduced some of these numbers.

This is from the institute’s 2012 fact sheet:

  Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks.


Virtually all college students experience the effects of college drinking—whether they drink or not.


Consequences of Abusive College Drinking

Drinking affects college students, their families, and college communities at large. Consequences include:



Each year an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol- related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.



Each year an estimated 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.



Each year an estimated 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.


Sexual Abuse

Each year an estimated 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.


Unsafe Sex

Each year an estimated 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.


Academic Problems

About one-quarter of college students report having academic consequences because of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.


Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Nineteen percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 24 met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, but only 5 percent of these students sought treatment for alcohol problems in the year preceding the survey.


Drunk Driving

Each year an estimated 3,360,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 drive under the influence of alcohol.


Other Consequences

These include suicide attempts, health problems, vandalism, property damage, and involvement with the police.



Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · April 9, 2013

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