Why Do College Students Drink So Much and So Often?

Why Do Students Drink So Much?

Posted by Shelley Kilpatrick on 14 April 2016 |

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Alcohol Usage and Consequences

college students drinking alcoholResults from the 2014 The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 60 percent of full-time college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month and 38 percent indicated binge drinking.

And this drinking has serious consequences. About one in four college students report academic consequences from drinking that include missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Those aren’t the only effects. NIAAA also reports:

  • About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
  • About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

With so many negative consequences, why do college students drink?

Connect and Establish Relationships with Peers

The U.S. Department of Education’s Core Alcohol and Drug Survey asked students about their perception on the effects of alcohol, they responded:

  • Breaks the ice: 74.4 percent
  • Enhances social activity: 74.4 percent
  • Gives people something to do: 71.7 percent
  • Gives people something to talk about: 66.6 percent
  • Allows people to have more fun: 63.1 percent
  • Facilitates male bonding: 60.1 percent
  • Facilitates a connection with peers 61.7 percent
  • Facilitates sexual opportunities: 53.0 percent
  • Facilitates female bonding: 28.8 percent
  • Makes women sexier: 28.8 percent
  • Makes food taste better: 22.7 percent
  • Makes me sexier: 20.4 percent
  • Makes men sexier: 19.9 percent

Based on the responses of this survey, many students use alcohol as a way to connect with and establish relationships with their peers. This makes sense considering many times college is the first time students are away from their family and friends. They want to establish new relationships, but can feel overwhelmed with experience and use alcohol as a way to relieve anxiety.

Drinking as an Activity to Entertain

With more time on their hands and less structure from parents and activities, students are looking for something to do, a way to be entertained. And they turn to drinking. For example, in a small town where the college campus constitutes the majority of the population, one of the main activities for students is to visit the neighborhood bar.

And if there isn’t a bar within walking distance, students can purchase alcohol and throw a party—something very popular with certain campus populations such as fraternities and sororities.

Another time when students participate in excessive drinking is during Spring Break. Parties and trips are organized around bars and parties with the entire purpose being to binge drink.

This drinking then becomes routine and a part of their schedule. It’s assumed that someone will throw a party Friday night, and because students want something to do, they will attend—and drink.

Drinking as a Way to Cope

Another reason students turn to alcohol is to cope with their problems. Maybe they are having a hard time in class and want to forget about the test they recently failed. Maybe they experienced a trauma, such as sexual assault, and are using alcohol to numb their pain.

This is particularly problematic, as pointed out by researchers Crystal L. Park and Michael Levenson in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol who found, “students who drink to cope may be at a particularly high risk of developing alcohol-dependent habits that will be difficult to modify even after they leave the college environment because, although the nature of the stresses they encounter will change, encounters with stressful experiences will continue throughout their lives.”

What Can Colleges Do to Reduce Drinking?

The NIAAA points out that to help reduce the number of students drinking, there are many things colleges can do:

  • Provide alcohol education training that focuses on the positive effects of not drinking.
  • Host social events that aren’t centered around alcohol.
  • Don’t allow student newspapers to run advertisements for liquor.
  • Define and enforce your college’s alcohol policy.
  • Give students accurate and complete information the effects of alcohol.
  • Engage family and/or create parent awareness programs?

Understanding why students turn to alcohol can help you stop them from drinking and making bad choices. Check out our previous blogs here and here for more information on how your college can reduce student drinking.

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