College Student Drinking Rates

About half (49%) of American college students don’t drink alcohol on a regular basis, 31% consume five or fewer drinks per week, and only 12% (a little over one in ten) consume ten or more drinks per week.

That’s the finding of a poll conducted for the Dole Nutrition Institute by The Polling Company of Washington, DC. 1

These findings are consistent with that of other nation-wide research. For example, the average (median) number of drinks consumed by college students was 1.5 per week, according to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study’s survey of 17,592 students at 140 colleges and universities across the United States. The authors of the study described this consumption number as "very small." 2

Nation-wide research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reveals that the proportion of college students in the U.S. who drank any alcohol within the previous month decreased significantly between 1993 and 2001.

The study also found that average consumption among students under the age of 21 dropped from 22.3 drinks per month in 1993 to 20.8 per month in the latter period. Thus, in 2001, college students in the U.S. under the age of 21 consumed an average of only 2/3 of a drink per day. 3

Freshmen college students in 2003 reported the lowest rates of drinking in 38 years. The proportion who occasionally or frequently drinks beer has dropped to an historic low of 44.8%, down from 73.7% in 1982. Consumption of wine and distilled spirits (liquor) also dropped to record lows.

The College Student survey, often called the Annual College Freshman Survey, is the oldest and largest empirical study of higher education in the US. Established in 1996 by the American Council on Education, the survey is conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California at Los Angeles. 4

References

  • 1. Grossman, Jennifer. Special Campus Dole Poll. Dole Nutrition News, November 8, 2004. Available at Dole Nutrition Institute web site.
  • 2. Wechsler, Henry, Molnar, Beth E., Davenport, Andrea E., and Baer, John S. College Alcohol Use: A Full or Empty Glass? Journal of American College Health, 1999, 47, 247-252.
  • 3. Wechsler, H., et al. Underage college students' drinking behavior, access to alcohol, and the influence of deterrence policies: Findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. Journal of American College Health, 2002, 50(5), 223-236; Wechsler, H.. et al. Trends in college binge drinking during a period of increased prevention efforts: Findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys: 1993-2002. Journal of American College Health, 2002, 50(5), 203-217.
  • 4. Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). Political Interest on the Rebound Among Nation’s Freshmen, UCLA Survey Reveals. Higher Education Research Institute/American Council on Education press release, 1-26-04. The survey is sometimes also called the Alexander Astin study.

Readings

  • Abejo, J. When Ivy Walls are Left Behind, So's the Bottle: Despite Excesses Observed in College Fraternities and Sororities, Study Finds Alcohol Use Drops as Graduates Enter Workplace. Knight-Ridder, March 12, 2001.
  • Berkowitz, Alan D. The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography. Trumansburg, NY, 2003.
  • DeJong, W., and Linkenbach, J. Telling it like it is: Using social norms marketing campaigns to reduce student drinking. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 1999, 52(4), 13-16.
  • Haines, Michael P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, MA: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.
  • Hanson, David J. Alcohol, Drug and Smoking Education Programs. In: The International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, England: Pergamon, second ed., 1994.
  • Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
  • Hanson, David J. Alcohol Education: What We Must Do. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1996, pp. 114-115.
  • Hanson, David J. Effectiveness of specific public policies on substance abuse prevention. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 1996, 9, 235-238.
  • Hanson, David J. Drug Prevention Education. In: The Encyclopedia of Education and Encyclopedia of Higher Education on CD-ROM. Oxford, England: Pergamon, 1997.
  • Johannessen, K., et al. A Practical Guide to Alcohol Abuse Prevention: A Campus Case Study in Implementing Social Norms and Environmental Management Approaches. Tucson, AZ: Campus Health Service, The University of Arizona, 1986. [A detailed examination of the first four years of the University of Arizona's social norm campaign, which achieved a 29% reduction in heavy drinking.]
  • Kypros K. and Langely, J.D. Perceived social norms and their relation to university student drinking," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, November 2003, pp. 829-834.
  • Mattern, J. and Neighbors, C. "Social norms campaigns: examining the relationship between changes in perceived norms and changes in drink levels." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 65, 2004 (Forthcoming)
  • Neighbors, C., Larimer, M.E., Lewis, M.A. "Targeting Misperceptions of Descriptive Drinking Norms: Efficacy of a Computer-Delivered Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2004, Vol. 72, No. 3, 434-447
  • Perkins, H. Wesley and Craig, David. A Multifaceted Social Norms Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education Development Center, Inc., 2002. [Describes the Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Social Norms Project, which achieved a 30% reduction in high-risk drinking over 5 years. Contents include a complete description of program components, including data collection, print media campaigns, electronic media campaigns, curriculum development, and campus presentations.]
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: A Report to College Presidents. Carbondale, Illinois: CORE Institute, 1998.
  • Wechsler, H., et al. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. Journal of American College Health, 1998, 47, 57-68.