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.
- 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
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
- 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
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 (www.socialnorms.org).
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 www.socialnorm.org/.
4. National Social
Norms Resource Center. Norms of Moderation and Safety: College Students
and Alcohol (www.socialnorms.org).
Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)
National Social Norms Resource Center (www.socialnorms.org). This site provides
many additional statistics and other useful information on college
and university student drinking and drinking problems.