College Binge Drinking: Statistics and Treatment

Last Updated: Feb 7th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

College Binge Drinking: Statistics and Treatment

Drinking in college is almost as common as changing your socks daily. For many, drinking in college is a rite of passage. Everyone has the story of the first time they drank too much in college or how they can’t drink certain liquors anymore because they got sick from drinking too much of it too many times. Thanks to how it is portrayed on TV and in movies and the so-called “party culture”, drinking in college has become a regular part of the entire college experience along with going to class and living in dorm rooms.

Unfortunately, binge drinking isn’t as innocent as it’s made out to be. Binge drinking can cause major health and safety problems and can even lead to alcohol addiction later in life. In this blog, we will take an in-depth look at college binge drinking as well as ways you can get help for alcohol addiction.

What Exactly Is “Binge Drinking”?

Binge drinking is defined as any type of excess drinking of alcohol over a short period of time. If a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is about a .08, they are legally considered to be drunk in most states. If that level was reached in under 2 hours, then binge drinking was the culprit. While it varies based on body composition, it takes the average male 5 drinks to reach a .08 BAC while it takes the average female 4 drinks to reach that same BAC. 

Over the years, binge drinking has become more and more common. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, two out of every five college students binge drank at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey. That means that almost half of the college students in the United States has binge drank at least once in their college careers. While for the majority of those students’ binge drinking is just a way to have fun with friends, it can have very dangerous consequences that many don’t think about until it is too late.

What Are Some of the Consequences of Binge Drinking?

While most college students think that the worst thing that happens if they drink too much is they get sick and throw up or they wake up in the morning with a hangover, those are actually the least consequential results of a night of heavy drinking. Even if you are one of the few who never really drank in college or never binge drank, chances are you still felt the effects of binge drinking in some way. 

Here are some examples of some potentially severe consequences that can happen as a result of binge drinking:

Poor School Performance

Drinking too much can not only take an adverse effect on your body, but it can also negatively affect your academic performance. Students may choose to drink instead of studying, doing their homework, or even going to class. In addition, the effects of drinking too much, like a hangover, can not only have an adverse effect at the time but also can affect performance the next day or even several days down the line.

Roughly 25% of all college students have reported negative academic consequences as a result of drinking. Considering the cost of college and how important each class is towards graduating, performing poorly academically due to drinking can end up costing thousands of dollars and prolong the amount of time it takes to get through school.

Bodily Harm

Drinking tends to affect a person’s ability to make wise, calculated decisions. Drinking might hinder a person’s ability to think clearly or it might even make it tougher for the body to feel things, both physically and emotionally. As a result, bodily harm is unfortunately way too common amongst college students that drink heavily. In some cases, the injury will be minor like a cut or a scrape or even some bruising. Unfortunately, major injuries can occur as a result of too much drinking like concussions, broken bones, paralysis, or even death.

Each year, nearly 600,000 college students unintentionally injure themselves in some way as a result of binge drinking. Almost 2,000 students die from drinking-related injuries. For those suffering from depression or anxiety, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to suicidal thoughts or even acts of self-harm. Nearly 2% of college students have admitted to attempting to commit suicide due to heavy drinking.

Assault

Since alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions and alters their judgment, not only is accidental injury more common when alcohol is involved, but so is assault. Close to 700,000 students are assaulted by someone who had been drinking prior to the assault taking place on a yearly basis. This can be a sexual assault or a physical assault. Nearly 100,000 are the victim of an alcohol-related sexual assault.

Sexual assault has become more and more common amongst college students. One person will notice that another person has been drinking a lot, in many cases too much, and take advantage of that person because they can not defend themselves due to their inebriation. Sexual assault not only has lasting emotional effects but physical ones as well. Sexual assault can lead to unwanted pregnancies, STDs, and physical injuries.

Committing a Crime

As we have mentioned in all the other examples so far, alcohol changes the way people think and act. While people know what is right and wrong and what is legal and illegal when they are sober, when they are drunk those thoughts may not creep into their mind when they are thinking of doing something. Common alcohol-related crimes that college students commit include vandalism, property damage, and driving under the influence. Sometimes, alcohol-related crimes can be very serious and lead to significant jail time. Those can include battery, kidnapping, and homicide.

Health Issues

For most people, the negative health effects associated with binge drinking do not appear immediately. For many people, they might start to develop health issues as a result of their college drinking much later in life. However, that is not always the case. In fact, every year more than 150,000 college students develop some type of alcohol-related health issue. Common alcohol-related health issues include liver damage, high blood pressure, and inflammation of the pancreas. In extreme cases, binge drinking can lead to major permanent health problems such as brain damage or even death. In addition, those who drink heavily in college are more likely to develop alcohol dependence or even addiction when they get older. 

Why Do College Students Binge Drink?

While everyone has a different reason for why they binge drink, for most people it’s a way to go out and have fun with friends or even meet new people. Thanks in part to the way our society has accepted the “party culture” of college and even portray it in a positive light in tv and movies, many people go to college expecting to drink and drink heavily.

Some students turn to alcohol as a way to combat their feelings of loneliness, depression, or even homesickness. For many students, college is the first time they are truly on their own and not constantly around their parents. As a result, they might turn to alcohol for a feeling of comfort, or to numb the emotional pain of being away from home. Other “popular” reasons for binge drinking include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Insecurity
  • A desire to fit in
  • Relationship problems

What is the Connection Between Binge Drinking and Addiction?

While every person that drinks won’t automatically become addicted to alcohol, it can happen and happens more frequently then you might think. For many college students, they enjoy their time drinking. They might feel less stressed or not quite as lonely or even more well-accepted. For others, they might enjoy the feeling they get when drinking so much that they continue to chase it. Eventually, it could even get to a point where the student in question may feel like they can’t participate in social events normally, or feel normal during the day, without drinking alcohol. While the dependency might start and end with alcohol, studies have shown that people that find themselves suffering from alcohol dependency or addiction are more likely to get hooked on other substances such as prescription drugs or other types of illicit substances.

Getting Help for Binge Drinking

While binge drinking in college may seem harmless enough, it can have long-lasting consequences that affect not only you, but also those around you. If you or someone you know drinks too much and you think they might have a problem, the worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye to it. At 1st Step Behavioral Health, we know that drinking too much can have significant adverse effects on the health and well-being of both the drinker and those close with the drinker. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs including alcohol treatment.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.