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Alcohol Misuse in College

by Rachel Gaddis

January 12, 2022
Alcohol Misuse in College

Alcohol misuse by college students is an age-old problem. With 80% of college students consuming alcohol, and up to 50% engaging in binge drinking – more on that below – alcohol abuse in college is certainly not a “fringe” activity. It is a reality, if not a guarantee.

Despite its prevalence and social acceptance, heavy drinking at college can have ruinous consequences, both at the time and later in life. From intoxication and alcohol poisoning to driving under the influence and physical and sexual assault cases involving alcohol, alcohol is not all fun and games.

According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism data, 110,000 college students are arrested each year for a battery of alcohol-related incidents. Beyond this, 1825 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries.

Dynamics of College Drinking

Alcohol is now considered a staple of the college experience by young adults who are living away from home for the first time and have reached the age where they can legally consume alcohol. And alcohol is widely available at parties and other social functions.  Students drink to celebrate academic achievement, before and after sporting events, and especially in Greek life.

Many students have a very laid-back attitude toward alcohol misuse and dangerous levels of binge drinking. Yet it is binge drinking that is especially damaging and dangerous. What is binge drinking, exactly, and how does it differ from social drinking?

College Binge Drinking

More than half of all college students engage in binge drinking, according to NIH data. Binge drinking is classified as follows:

  • Men drinking 5 or more standard drinks within 2 hours
  • Women drinking 4 or more standard drinks within 2 hours

The reasons for such elevated levels of binge drinking among students are nuanced. In some cases, hazing and sorority rituals encourage the consumption of lots of alcohol in a short period. Generally, though,  consuming alcohol habitually throughout parties and social events is simply  very common

Of all types of binge drinking, those associated with Greek life attract especially bad press. Hazing routinely accompanies binge drinking. In some cases, this has resulted in death by alcohol poisoning.

While death is possible, there are many other common consequences of alcohol misuse in college.

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in College

  1. Academic issues as a result of drinking
  2. Sexual assault and rape
  3. Developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  4. Death through alcohol-related injury
  5. Long-term health effects

1) Experiencing academic issues as a result of drinking

Roughly one in four college students experiences academic problems stemming from alcohol abuse. Missing class and falling behind in class are the most common immediate issues caused by heavy drinking. Heavy and sustained alcohol abuse can also trigger a disinterest in studying that can further impact overall prospects at college.

2) Sexual assault and rape

According to NIAAA data, a staggering 97,000 college students reported date rape or some form of sexual assault related to alcohol abuse. Date rape drugs like Rohypnol may have been overshadowed in the media by opioids and fentanyl, but drugs like this remain a clear and present danger on campuses across the United States.

3) Developing an alcohol use disorder

Of all full-time college students ages 18 to 22, roughly 9% satisfy the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to 2019 SAMHSA data. Even if a full-blown AUD does not manifest at college, heavy drinking and binge drinking can become unhealthy habits that continue beyond the college years.

4) Death through alcohol-related injury

An analysis of mortality data from 1998 to 2014 shows that over 1,500 college students died as a result of accidental injuries that involved alcohol use. The most obvious and common are injuries due to driving under the influence.

5) Long-term health effects

Even if you escape alcohol use disorder and any serious injuries as a result of drinking at college, binge drinking can lead to a laundry list of adverse health outcomes, including:

  • Brain damage
  • Cancer
  • Dependence on alcohol
  • Depression
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Infertility
  • Liver problems
  • Stroke
  • Ulcers

Alcohol Poisoning and College Students

Emergency rooms are filled with thousands of college students each year suffering from alcohol poisoning. This occurs when the body is flooded with so much alcohol that parts of the brain responsible for basic functions of life support start shutting down; temperature regulation, heart rate, and breathing are all impacted.

Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Blue tinge to the skin
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses
  • Flitting in and out of consciousness
  • Irregular breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Paleness
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Stupor
  • Very low body temperature
  • Vomiting

Any case of alcohol poisoning can cause permanent brain damage or death if left untreated. If you notice any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately.

What Comes Next

If you are a college student or parent concerned about the amount of alcohol you or your loved one may be consuming, have you considered  an outpatient treatment program? The flexibility of outpatient programs – which are ideal for mild alcohol use disorders – allow you to continue with your college classes while pursuing treatment.

Learn more today by speaking 24/7 with a member of our Landmark Recovery team at 888-448-0302.

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