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The Dangers of College Binge Drinking

Parents already know what the statistics continue to reveal: binge drinking is still a major threat to college students. One might think by 2019 that getting black out drunk was not so tightly ingrained into the college experience but this unhealthy ritual persists and the dangers of binge drinking needs further awareness.

red plastic cupsEven worse, the prevalence of binge drinking in college makes it harder to determine when unhealthy alcohol in college begins to ramp up into a lifelong problem. Regardless, binge drinking in college certainly increases a student’s risk for alcohol dependence later in life.

So why is binge drinking still such a popular part of college culture? How can concerned parents help when alcohol problems spiral out of control? This helpful resource answers these questions and more, providing guidance to parents and college students alike who struggle with binge drinking.


Why Is Binge Drinking So Popular?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as any scenario where someone consumes more than four drinks in a single sitting.

This level of consumption is dangerously commonplace at college house parties and tailgates. Students are generally not full blown alcoholics before entering college, so what is encouraging this relationship with drinking? Experts cited by The New York Times and Psychology Today offered these explanations:

  • Drinking rituals are increasingly commonplace on campuses, including drinking prior to events (“pre-gaming”) and a preference for hard liquor over beer. For many students, party culture revolves directly around drinking as much as possible in a single evening.
  • Students in their late-teens and early-twenties are still going through a maturation process. Risk-taking and experimentation are perceived as rites of passage, especially for college students. For many students, this penchant for taking risks translates to dangerous behavior with alcohol.

Health Risks and Consequences of College Binge Drinking

College student in hall

Binge drinking in college can impact every facet of a student’s physical and mental health. Toxic behavior with alcohol, such as binge drinking, can cost students their mental well being and physical health. Long-term binge drinking habits can begin to impact academic performance and hinder healthy social development as well.

Consequences of College Binge Drinking:



  • Less time spent with long-tem friends due to time spent drinking
  • Partying lifestyle can put a strain on romantic partners


  • Loss of friends due to changes in behavior due to alcohol use
  • Loss of non-partying friends 

Consequences of College Binge Drinking:



  • Inability to focus due to hangovers
  • Fatigue from sleep loss, self-esteem
  • Motivation issues due to regular consumption of depressants


  • Mental dependence on alcohol
  • Inability to function normally without being under the influence
  • Increase risk factor for suicide and depression

Consequences of College Binge Drinking:



  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Damage to the esophagus from vomiting
  • Weight gain from high calorie diet
  • Potential for self harm while under the influence


  • Malnutrition
  • Organ damage to liver and kidneys
  • Increased risk for disease due to compromised immune system
  • Risks due to unsafe sexual behavior while under the influence

Consequences of College Binge Drinking:



  • Falling behind on classwork
  • Missing lectures due to being under the influence


  • Expulsion on grounds of academic or behavioral issue
  • Long-term missed career opportunities

Consequences of College Binge Drinking:



  • Missing bill payments due to overspending on alcohol
  • Fewer options to join in activities that don’t involve alcohol


  • Long-term financial risks related to treatment for alcoholism
  • Career options limited by alcohol abuse or criminal record

Binge Drinking and Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning, a form of overdose that occurs when the body consumes too much alcohol at once, is such a serious risk factor on college campuses that it deserves special emphasis.

Unfortunately, overdrinking is a natural consequence of a culture that encourages students to drink as much as they can. As a result, friends and family should always be on the lookout and call 911 immediately if they spot these following symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • Low body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin

Binge Drinking and Alcohol Dependence

Not all the major health risk for students who binge drink are physical. The routine, out of  control drinking that occurs during binge drinking session is not too many steps removed from full on alcohol dependence.

Every individual will be affected by alcohol, so not every college student who binge drinks is also addicted to alcohol. However, parents and loved ones should not hesitate to take action if they notice one of these warning signs:

binge drinking college student

  • Students regularly mixing alcohol with other drugs and medication
  • Use of alcohol begins to demonstrate a measurable and negative impact on a student’s schoolwork
  • Friends begin to express concern about how often a student is drinking and attending
  • Students begin to drink alone
  • Students are blacking out on a regular basis when they drink
  • Binge drinking leads to an escalating pattern of unsafe behavior like drinking, drunk driving, and unprotected sex


What Are Colleges Doing About Binge Drinking?

For parents with students still in high school, the prospect of sending a child to college must seem more terrifying than ever. It is worth pointing out, however, that not all campuses are on equal footing when it comes to cracking down on student binge drinking.

Ways to Stop Binge Drinking on College Campuses

The following are a few schools that have active strategies in place to combat binge drinking, especially among underage students. It may be worth looking into programs like these when families begin to evaluate colleges during junior and senior year:

  • Ohio State University and several other schools nationwide have instituted screening tests for students that help schools evaluate how big the binge drinking problem is on campus and catch potential alcohol addictions before they worsen
  • Institutions like Michigan State University have begun to aggressively crackdown on activities like frat rushes and tailgates that common encourage binge drinking
  • Some schools like Boston University have begun to provide comprehensive education about binge drinking and alcohol dependence with hopes of empowering students to make better decisions
  • Brigham Young University and a short list of other major institutions have responded by operating as a dry campus, with no alcohol allowed whatsoever


Binge Drinking Statistics For Family and Friends

When students attend college, most of the social events that they will attend involve alcohol consumption. It’s only natural that the likelihood of a student developing a problem with alcohol will increase when they go to school.

It’s important for friends and family members to take this threat seriously. The latest statistics and facts about alcohol reveal just how serious the problem remains on college campuses today:

  • The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 57% percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month
    • 38% of students engaged in binge drinking over the past month
    • 11% of students participated in multiple binge drinking incidents in the past month
  • Another study performed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) confirmed that most students under the age of 21 have tried binge drinking at least once
  • Data gathered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that binge drinking is responsible for 1,519 deaths among students aged 18 to 14 annually
    • Over this period, there have been 696,000 recorded assaults by on students due to binge drinking
    • Over thsi period, there have been 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape related to binge drinking
  • According to a 2018 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, half of the nation’s binge drinkers are over the age of 35
    • Binge drinking behaviors are twice as common among male students than female students


Seek Help for Binge Drinking Today

If your friend or family member is struggling with binge drinking in a college environment, help is available. The holistic alcohol rehab programs at Acceptance Recovery Center can help students get away from a toxic spiral of alcoholism and back on the path to academic success.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs


About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD 

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