College binge drinking is a harmful behavior that causes problems for students and their current and future health. Binge drinking dangers include alcohol poisoning, risky behaviors that lead to physical injury and legal problems, long-term health problems, and even death.
Drinking alcohol in college, even as an underage student, is not uncommon. Understanding the dangers of binge drinking can help students make the decisions best for their success. Research on college-age drinking shows students who know the risks and consequences make better decisions. Educating college students about alcohol use, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorder and increasing their awareness of the associated dangers provides the knowledge they need to make healthy and safe decisions.
What is Considered Binge Drinking?
The definition of binge drinking is consuming alcohol in a pattern that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Typically this equals five or more drinks in two hours for a male and four or more in the same timeframe for a female.
A drink is considered one 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled alcohol, such as whiskey, tequila, or vodka. And drinking twice that amount is called “high-intensity drinking.” Knowing what is considered a drink helps track consumption, but a serving may be more than the typical size in some environments.
How Common is Binge Drinking in College?
Alcohol consumption and college seem to go hand in hand. In one study, 93% of college students said they drank in the past three months, a percentage that’s been consistent for about two decades. The same study reported that binge drinking is decreasing slightly, but high intensity drinking is increasing.
Some parts of college life, like more free time, limited interactions with parents and authority figures, and widespread availability of alcohol, can lead to student drinking. College students have higher rates of driving under the influence and binge drinking than peers not in college. Incoming first-year students are especially vulnerable during the first six weeks considering the different structure and peer pressure.
“College is a whole new experience for young people whose brains are not fully developed,” said Teresa Mock, BSN, Director of Admissions at Integrative LIfe Center. “They’re thrown into a new environment where it seems like everyone is drinking and no authority figure is there telling them what not to do. What seems like fun at first can quickly have dangerous, long-term consequences.”
Other causes of college binge drinking include:
- Growing up in an environment that normalized drinking
- Peer pressure
- Accessibility of alcohol
- Stress and anxiety
- Social acceptability
The Dangers of College Binge Drinking
While drinking may seem like part of college life, binge drinking can have consequences, now and in the future.
“Young people have a tendency to think nothing bad will happen to them. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that proven inaccurate time and again with students who binge drink. Binge drinking or encouraging someone else to do so can have severe consequences,” Teresa explained.
Binge drinking may lead to alcohol poisoning and other physical injuries. In addition, engaging in risky behaviors while impaired by alcohol may lead to immediate harm. Suicide rates also are higher in college students who drink alcohol. Long-term health issues like an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, or cirrhosis can result from binge drinking.
Mental Health Issues
Drinking can lead to anxiety and depression in college students. Of course, alcohol use also may be an adverse way of coping with these mental health concerns. It creates a cycle of attempting to feel better, then crashing again. The need to feel better and repeat this cycle can result in addiction.
The outcomes of collegiate drinking aren’t limited to the individual. They affect others too. Legal problems from binge drinking are common. Legal issues students often face include driving under the influence, vandalism, or assault. The likelihood of involvement with the police increases for college students when they binge drink. These poor decisions after alcohol consumption can follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult for you to get a job or even keep a driver’s license.
College students who binge drink frequently get worse grades than those who don’t. Students who drink often or binge drink are more likely to miss classes. They’re also less likely to have strong study habits. Both factors are tied directly to lower grades.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder, or alcohol addiction, is the inability to stop or control alcohol use. It can affect anyone and causes adverse outcomes like health issues, failed relationships, and an inability to get or keep a job. About 20% of college students qualify for an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. Once you have an addiction, staying sober is a life-long process.
Nearly 2,000 college students ages 18 to 24 die each year from alcohol-related incidents. These incidents include car wrecks, hazing, concussions or other injuries from assaults, and aspiration during sleep.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in College Students
Alcohol abuse in college can have long-term negative consequences on a young person’s mental and physical well-being. But how do you know if you or a college student you love is abusing alcohol? If binge drinking, as described above, is a regular part of the student’s behavior, they might have a problem.
“It’s really better not to drink alcohol because no amount of alcohol use is considered safe,” Teresa stated. “If an adult chooses to drink, they shouldn’t drink more than one or two drinks on occasion. They should never drink and drive, and they should only drink with people they trust and in places where they feel safe.”
Other signs of alcohol abuse include:
- An inability to control how much you drink at any given time
- Trying to quit using alcohol unsuccessfully
- Continued drinking despite negative consequences like poor academic performance or legal issues
- Neglecting responsibilities like going to work or attending class
- Changes in sleep or eating habits
- Needing increasingly more alcohol to get the same effects
- Spending increasingly more time drinking alcohol or recovering from drinking
- Craving alcohol
- Lying or being secretive about how much or how often you drink
- Having relationship difficulties, especially if they’re directly tied to things you do or don’t do when you’re drinking
Preventions for College Binge Drinking
The good news is that you can curb or stop drinking anytime. Depending on how much you drink and how often, you may need professional help to address the addiction, but it is possible. Many methods help prevent or stop binge drinking or excessive drinking in college.
Stop binge drinking through:
- Education and Awareness. Developing programs to educate students, especially those in higher-risk groups such as first-year students, students in sororities and fraternities, and student-athletes, can provide awareness of the dangers of binge drinking. Education is proven to lower the amount of binge drinking on college campuses.
- Developing Healthy Habits. College students should develop healthy habits in relation to sleep, eating, and stress management to help them succeed. Tips on staying healthy in college, both from school and home, can support students during their college journey.
- Restricting Alcohol Availability. Rules restricting the possession or consumption of alcohol on campus can help keep students safe.
- Providing Support. Providing students with a strong support system and people to turn to when they need to talk about life stressors can help them avoid adverse coping mechanisms.
- Offering Help. Identifying the signs of excessive drinking and offering mental health support to those students can help identify alcohol-related issues and hopefully begin treating them early.
How ILC Can Help
College binge drinking harms student drinkers, their health, and their success — during and after university. The students themselves should understand the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol use disorder to help them make the best personal choices. And students should know they are not alone in their college journey.
Schools and families can support at-risk college students and provide educational resources to assist in informed decision-making. Education and awareness provide students resilience as they navigate risky situations, arming them to make choices in their best interest now and in the future.
If you or someone you love needs help with alcohol use disorder, Integrative Life Center can help. Contact ILC to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.