College Drinking and Junk Science

A widely-reported report, "A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges," claims that 1,400 college students die annually from alcohol; that 50,000 are injured while under the influence of alcohol; that 600,000 are assaulted; that 70,000 are victims of sexual assault; that 400,000 engage in unsafe sex; that 25% have academic problems, and that 150,000 have alcohol-related health problems or try to commit suicide.

But all of these headline-grabbing statistics are actually only guesses. As junk science watchdog Steven Milloy points out, none of the supposed "facts" are based on actual counts.

As an example, Milloy explains how the statistic of 1,400 deaths from alcohol was generated. Thirty-one percent of the 25.5 million 18-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. are college students. The number of alcohol-related vehicle accidents among 18-24-year-olds in a recent year was estimated at 3,674, of which 31% is 1,138.

There were also reported to be 991 alcohol-related non-traffic deaths among 18-to-24-year-olds, of which 31% would be 307. Adding this 307 to the earlier 1,138 yields the alleged 1,445 alcohol-related annual deaths among college students.

Sounds reasonable at first glance. But do college students constitute 31% of alcohol deaths simply because 31% of 18-to-24-year-olds are college student? As Milloy points out, this simplistic reasoning is equivalent to assuming that because women constitute about half of the population, they commit half the crimes. Actually, they commit under 25% of crimes. So the report has made a dangerous assumption.

But what about the effects of miles driven per year? Who drives more, college students or non-college students? These and all the other important factors are completely ignored in the rush to grab publicity.

Although the abuse of alcohol by college students continues its long decline, it remains a serious problem. The sensationalist report asserting these dubious statistics is titled "A Call to Action," but any call to action should be based on accurate facts instead of questionable guesses and speculations passed off as reliable numbers. Our young people deserve much, much better.

To see why exaggerations and distortions can actually make alcohol abuse worse, visit A Proven Way to Reduce Alcohol Abuse.


  • A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges. April, 2002. Available at
  • Hingson, R., et al. Magnitude of alcohol-related morbidity, mortality, ahd alcohol dependence among U.S. college students between the ages of 18 and 24. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002, 63(2), 136-144.
  • Huff, D. How To Lie With Statistics. NY: Norton, 1993.
  • Milloy, S. College Drinking Study is Intoxicating Scam. Fox News (April 12, 2002). See,2933,50104,00.html; also see
  • Runyon, R. P. How Numbers Lie: A consumer's Guide to the Fine Art of Numerical Deception. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lewis Publishing Co., 1989.

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