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College Binge Drinking

Information for Parents About the Realities of College Binge Drinking


Updated September 23, 2009

College binge drinking is an unfortunate part of the list of dangers -- poor nutrition, no sleep -- students face when hitting campuses each fall. While you can't be there to watch your son or daughter's every move, do you know enough about college binge drinking to do what you can to help keep your student safe?

What Is College Binge Drinking?

Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States. It isn't advisable from a health standpoint, either, as the brain continues to grow and develop up until one's early twenties. Once your child turns 21, having a drink or two with friends is legal and allowable. Social drinking will most likely become an option for college students as many turn 21 while still in school.

Binge drinking is technically defined as drinking enough to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08. This is commonly thought of as four or more drinks for a woman or five or more drinks for a man in a two-hour time period. More broadly, binge drinking is drinking an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, leading to serious health and social consequences.

Binge drinking is often a major concern for parents and college administrators alike. Forty-four percent of college students drink at levels that are considered binges. Young adults ages 18 to 22 who are enrolled full-time in four-year colleges are more likely than their peers who are not full-time to binge drink. Startlingly, 48% of those who drink in college say that drinking to get drunk is an important reason to drink.

The Dangers of Binge Drinking

There are essentially two groups of problems associated with binge drinking. Put together, these problems are staggering. But even individually, they are good reasons to coach your child to avoid binging.

Physical consequences of binge drinking:

  • Accidents with injuries: After drinking too much, balance and judgment fails. Falls, burns, and drownings can all happen after too much to drink. If someone binges and gets behind the wheel of a car, accidents can and will happen. These and other alcohol-related unintentional injuries kill approximately 1700 college students each year.

  • Intentional injuries: Because alcohol can impair judgment and lead to feelings of depression, suicide or suicidal gestures can increase during a binge. Binge drinking can also lead to an increase in sexual assaults or domestic violence incidents. In fact, three out of four college students who have been sexually assaulted were under the influence of alcohol.

  • Alcohol poisoning: It's obvious that too much alcohol is not good for the body. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to severe and even deadly physical reactions. Too much alcohol can deprive the brain of oxygen, leading to a shut-down of the parts of the brain that regulate breathing and heart rate. It is this process that can lead to death. Each year, 30,000 college students need medical attention after overdosing on alcohol.

  • Vomiting and other gastrointestinal tract concerns: I think we have all seen people who have vomited after drinking too much alcohol. Drinking alcohol can also lead to a worsening of stomach ulcers.

  • Sexually transmitted disease and unplanned pregnancy: According to the 1999 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey, an estimated 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have had sex but were too intoxicated to know if they consented or not. Additionally, while under the influence of alcohol, it is difficult to make good decisions about safe sex.
  • Cardiovascular effects, such as stroke and high blood pressure.

  • Liver disease, such as cirrhosis, fatty liver and liver cancer.

  • Neurological dysfunction, like problems with memory, learning and attention.
Social and emotional consequences of binge drinking:

The social and emotional consequences of things that can happen as a result of binge drinking can be as devastating as the physical consequences. A car accident that happens under the influence of alcohol, for instance, will result in serious legal charges. If people were hurt in the accident, there can be great feelings of guilt and shame that come with it. The emotional effects of a sexual violation can be lifelong. Those who are sexually assaulted can have a range of problems from issues with intimacy, self-esteem, and depression. Less drastic, though having serious impact in a different way, study time and class time can be disrupted by the ingestion of alcohol. A hangover may last a day, but these consequences can last a lifetime.

Those around the drinker feel the effects of the binge, too. In schools with high binge drinking rates, students witnessing a binge have reported being humiliated, insulted, pushed, hit, or sexually harassed by the person drinking. None of these activities help a young student adjust to college life and can only be detrimental to their attempts to “fit in.”

Now that you know the dangers, what do you do about it? For more on how to talk to your teen about college binge drinking, read Talking to Your Teen About Binge Drinking.


Binge Drinking in Adolescents and College Students. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSAs National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. August 28, 2009. http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/rpo995/

Binge Drinking on College Campuses. Center for Science in the Public Interest. August 28, 2009. http://www.cspinet.org/booze/collfact1.htm

Quick Stats Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control. August 28, 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/quickstats/binge_drinking.htm

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