College Alcohol & Drug Abuse Report from CASA (Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse)

The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse or CASA (often called the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) has issued  another misleading report on alcohol drinking and drug use among college students.

However, the  Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University (STATS), a non-partisan, independent organization that analyzes the accuracy of  reports and statistics, has blown the whistle on the deception.  It has revealed some of the highly misleading techniques used in CASA’s “Wasting the Best and the Brightest” that exaggerate the magnitude of the problem.

STATS points out that CASA compared student marijuana use in 2005 to that in 1993 instead of the more logical 2000, 1995, 1990, 1985 or other five- or ten-year increment. By picking a year in which marijuana use was unusually low, it was able to make the increase much more dramatic than if it had picked the more logical 1990 or 1995 comparison point.

CASA also reports that in 2005 “almost one in four college students (22.9%) met the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence, almost triple the proportion (8.5%) in the general population.”  The proper comparison would be with students of the same age who don’t attend college. A long-established fact is that drug use and heavy alcohol use tends to drop dramatically upon graduation because of the demands of  employment and other responsibilities.

STATS points out that "This makes it appear as though college students are more likely to be addicts or alcoholics than non-college students, which is something that confounds common sense when you consider that the most severe cases of addiction start young and often result in failure to complete high school, let alone attend college – and that addiction itself often causes college dropout."

STATS also notes that “’substance dependence‘ is the medical term for addiction; 'substance abuse' is the medical term for use of substances that is potentially harmful but is not characterized by compulsion or long-term problems.” Substance dependence is much less common that is substance abuse, but by combining the categories, CASA makes the problem appear much greater than it really is.

CASA has a long history of exaggerating problems and minimizing progress and good news. This report is no different.  The activist group emphasized  an apparently real increase in the misuse of prescription drugs among college students. However, as STATS points out, it buried the fact that that this increase is almost half that of those young people who aren’t in college.

So-called binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks during an occasion for men and four or more for women) in college has remained steady  between 1993 and 2005. This isn’t bad news so, as STATS explained, CASA  “problematized this as being an instance of  ‘no significant decline’ and pointed out minor changes in subcategories like a 16% increase in binge drinking ‘three or more times in the past two weeks.’ STATS explained that among researchers “this is known as ‘data dredging:’ Your main finding is not really that significant, so you parse enough subcategories in order to find something that looks scary or important.”

Is there an alcohol and drug abuse problem on college campuses? Yes, there certainly is. But with such problems continuing to decline, there is no crisis or epidemic.



  • Szalavitz, Maia. Is There a College Substance Abuse Crisis? Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University, March 21, 2007. This article can be found at

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