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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Rethinking Drinking

College Drinking

group of teenagers at party

Research shows that students who choose not to drink often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them. Nighttime restrictions on young drivers and strict license suspension policies, interventions focused on partnerships between colleges and the community, and routine screening by physicians to identify and counsel underage drinkers help reduce college drinking.

Abusive and underage college drinking are significant public health problems.

Although the majority of students come to college with some experience with alcohol, certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults, can intensify the problem. In fact, college students binge drink and drunk drive more than their non-college peers. Whether they drink or not, virtually all college students experience the effects of college drinking.

The Transition to College—A Time of Risk

The first six weeks of freshman year are an especially vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures. Heavy drinking is highest among fraternity and sorority students, lowest among commuters living at home.

Alcohol Poisoning Among College Students

Thousands of college students end up in emergency rooms each year due to alcohol poisoning, which suppresses the nervous and respiratory systems. Signs include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or the person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Hypothermia or low body temperature, bluish or pale skin

Alcohol poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage. If someone shows any of these signs: Don't wait! Call 911.

Death—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.
Assault—Each year an estimated 696,000 students between 18 and 24 are assaulted by other students who have been drinking.
Sex—Each year an estimated 400,000 students between 18 and 24 have unprotected sex; more than 100,000 report being too intoxicated to know if they consented or not.
Sexual Abuse—An estimated 97,000 students between 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape each year.

Spring 2014 Issue: Volume 9 Number 1 Page 26