Student Statistics on Alcohol Consumption and Abuse

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Fact Sheet: Alcohol

As the following statistics on the use and abuse of alcohol on college campuses illustrates, excessive and irresponsible drinking among students has too often led to tragic consequences. College Parents of America strongly supports parental education and involvement to help insure that children make thoughtful and responsible decisions when it comes to alcohol. Sharing the following information, provided by the Screening for Mental Health, Inc. is an excellent way for parents to initiate a dialogue about drinking with their children.

Student Statistics on Alcohol Consumption and Abuse

  • Death: 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Injury: 500,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Assault: More than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall* (Engs et al., 1996; Presley et al., 1996a, 1996b; Wechsler et al., 2002).
  • Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem (Hingson et al., 2002) and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use* (Presley et al., 1998).
  • Drunk Driving: 2.1 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drove under the influence of alcohol last year* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Vandalism: About 11 percent of college student drinkers report that they have damaged property while under the influence of alcohol* (Wechsler et al., 2002).
  • Property Damage: More than 25 percent of administrators from schools with relatively low drinking levels and over 50 percent from schools with high drinking levels say their campuses have a "moderate" or "major" problem with alcohol-related property damage* (Wechsler et al., 1995).
  • Police Involvement: About 5 percent of 4-year college students are involved with the police or campus security as a result of their drinking (Wechsler et al., 2002) and an estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence* (Hingson et al., 2002).
  • Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: 31 percent of college students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6 percent for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence in the past 12 months, according to questionnaire based self-reports about their drinking* (Knight et al., 2002).
  • Living Arrangements: The proportion of college students who drink varies depending on where they live. Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities, followed by on-campus housing (e.g., dormitories, residence halls). Students who live independently off-site (e.g., in apartments) drink less, while commuting students who live with their families drink the least.
  • College Characteristics: A number of environmental influences working in concert with other factors may affect students' alcohol consumption. Schools where excessive alcohol use is more likely to occur include:
    • Schools where Greek systems dominate (i.e., fraternities, sororities)
    • Schools where athletic teams are prominent
    • Schools located in the Northeast
  • First-Year Students: The first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. The transition to college is often so difficult to negotiate that about one-third of first-year students fail to enroll for their second year.

 * Statistics from NIAAA's "Snapshot of Annual High-Risk College Drinking Consequences"

What are the signs of an alcohol problem?

The following are characteristics suggestive of someone with an alcohol problem:

  • Drinking to calm nerves, forget worries or to boost a sad mood.
  • Guilt about drinking.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down/stop drinking.
  • Lying about or hiding drinking habits.
  • Causing harm to oneself or someone else as a result of drinking.
  • Needing to drink increasingly greater amounts in order to achieve desired effect.
  • Feeling irritable, resentful or unreasonable when not drinking.
  • Medical, social, family, or financial problems caused by drinking.

Levels of Severity:

  • Alcohol Use Disorders include alcohol dependence (known as alcoholism) and alcohol abuse.
  • Alcohol abuse is characterized by clinically significant impairment or distress but does not entail physical dependence.
  • Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is characterized by impaired control over drinking, tolerance, withdrawal syndrome when alcohol is removed, neglect of normal activities for drinking, and continued drinking despite recurrent related physical or psychological problems.
  • Risky drinking includes drinking beyond moderate levels either on a regular basis or on a particular occasion.

Alcohol Risks to Health and Safety

  • Heavy drinking raises the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, accidents, violence, suicides, birth defects and overall mortality.
  • Economic costs to society are estimated at $185 billion annually for 1998.
  • Harmful and hazardous drinking is involved in about one-third of suicides, one-half of homicides, and one-third of child abuse cases.
  • Alcohol is involved in a large proportion of unintentional deaths from falls, burns, and drownings.

What is a Standard Drink?

A standard drink contains about 14 grams (about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. Below are some approximate drink equivalents:

  • 12 oz. of beer or cooler
  • 8-9 oz. of malt liquor
  • 5 oz. of table wine
  • 3-4 oz. of fortified wine
  • 2-3 oz. of cordial, liqueur or aperitif
  • 1.5 oz. of brandy or spirits

Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH) is the non-profit organization that first introduced the concept of large-scale mental health screenings in 1991 with its flagship program National Depression Screening Day. Since then, the model of public education, screening, and referral for prevalent, under-diagnosed and treatable mental disorders has been reproduced in a variety of settings, including college campuses. SMH provides its program CollegeResponse to colleges and universities as an effective education and prevention program for: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, alcohol problems, suicide intervention and eating disorders. Through in-person and online screening tools, the program provides a flexible and effective risk management tool for schools to refer their students to the resources they need. For more information on the CollegeResponse program, please call our program office at 781-239-0071 ext. 110

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