College Student Drinking 1

Statistics from three major national surveys of college student drinking in the U.S. demonstrate that:

I. Most students either abstain or drink in moderation.

For example:

  • Most students consume about one drink per hour when they party or socialize. This is consistent with research conducted by investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health of 17,952 students at 140 colleges and universities across the United States. They found that the average number of drinks consumed by students to be 1.5 per week. The authors of the study describe this consumption number as "very small." 2
  • Most students remain sober when they party or socialize. They maintain a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below .08. Research by others using breathalyzers to test students as they returned home from partying found that 72% had no alcohol in their bloodstreams. Even on traditional party nights, 66% (that's two out of three) had absolutely no alcohol in their systems. 3 (see Campus Drinking: What's Really Going On)

II. Most students drink safely.

For example, when they go out drinking, almost two out of three students keep track of how much they drink and almost three out of four use a designated driver. And when they go out to drink, 95% of students either usually or always use one or more of the following sensible protective behaviors:

  • Decide in advance not to exceed a pre-determined number of drinks.
  • Have a friend tell them when they've had enough to drink.
  • Eat before or while they drink.
  • Pace their drinks to one or fewer per hour.
  • Alternate non-alcoholic with alcohol beverages.
  • Drink an alcohol "look-alike," such as a "mocktail."
  • Avoid drinking games.
  • Choose not to consume any alcohol.

III. Serious harm resulting from drinking abuse is uncommon.

Contrary to common belief, it is a very small minority of students who experience serious consequences from drinking. Those who do have problems tend to be the focus of extensive news coverage, which leads to a very distorted view of reality. Of course, even a single problem resulting from alcohol abuse is one too many.

It has been pointed out that "given that the majority of students are moderate and not heavy drinkers, and that most of them employ a number of protective behaviors in order to drink safely, it is not surprising that serious harm as a consequence of drinking is uncommon." 4


NOTE: The National College Health Survey, conducted by the American College Health Association, sampled 16,024 students. The Core Alcohol and Drug Survey, developed by the Core Institute Center for Alcohol and other Drug Studies at Southern Illinois University, sampled 55,026 college students. The Monitoring the Future survey, conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, sampled 1,350 college students. Thus, these three studies surveyed 72,400 students at hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S.


  • 1. National Social Norms Resource Center. Norms of Moderation and Safety: College Students and Alcohol (
  • 2. Wechsler, H., et al. College alcohol use: A full or empty glass? Journal of American College Health, 1999, 47, 247-252.
  • 3. Foss, R. D., et al. BAC's of University Students Returning Home at Night. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety. Barlange, Sweden. Swedish National Road Administration, 2000. Accessable at
  • 4. National Social Norms Resource Center. Norms of Moderation and Safety: College Students and Alcohol (

Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)

  • National Social Norms Resource Center ( This site provides many additional statistics and other useful information on college and university student drinking and drinking problems.