The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that causes a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to rise to 0.08 grams percent or above. For various reasons, college students are at significant risk of binge drinking and, as a result, are forced to face the costly and long-lasting effects on their health, education and careers.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the University of Nevada-Reno’s Online Master of Public Health program.
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Counting the Drinks and Weighing the Risks
For college students, what may seem like a time to let loose and blow off some steam can quickly turn into a potentially deadly episode of binge drinking. Having a few drinks in a short period of time can lead to poor decision-making, risky behavior and a lifetime of regret.
Binge Drinking Facts
For women, binge drinking involves consuming four or more drinks in roughly two hours. For men, the number of drinks to qualify for binge drinking is five or more. Regardless of gender, binge drinking in the U.S. costs an estimated $191 billion. This figure includes workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses.
Studies also indicate 88,000 people die from excessive alcohol consumption annually, and young adults aged 18-24 account for 1,825 of these deaths. Men are also twice as likely to binge drink as women. Additionally, individuals under 21 are more likely to binge drink than other age groups.
Statistics of Binge Drinking in College
Adolescents and underage young adults engaging in binge drinking are 11 times more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, like smoking tobacco, substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices and physical violence.
According to studies, 696,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. Furthermore, 97,000 students report experiencing sexual assault or date rape.
One in four students have academic problems associated with drinking too much. Students binge drinking at least three times per week are six times more likely to perform poorly on projects or tests compared with students who drink alcohol but don’t binge. These students are also five times more likely to miss class.
The College Environment
College students are more likely to binge drink for several reasons. These factors include a wide availability of alcohol on campus, increased social pressure to drink, and academic-related stress. Students who join fraternities or sororities are more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink compared with their peers.
The Health Effects of Binge Drinking in College
Binge drinking in college can lead to many immediate and delayed consequences, such as untended pregnancy, violence and cancer.
Some of binge drinking’s undesirable effects include unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, or burns. They also include the development of chronic diseases like heart or liver disease. Additionally, they could lead to violent acts such as homicide, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence. They can also lead to cancer of the liver, breast, colon, and more. Other negative effects include poor pregnancy outcomes like miscarriage, sudden infant death syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and alcohol dependence.
How Alcohol Affects the Developing Brain
Binge drinking in adolescence can lead to problems with mental, behavioral and brain structure development. For instance, it could cause thinner-than-average prefrontal cortex, underdeveloped cerebral areas, and functional abnormalities in the hippocampus.
Drinking early in life can also lead to struggles in adulthood. These include inhibiting responses, controlling cravings or impulses for alcohol, and healthy decision-making.
Binge Drinking’s Close Relative: Alcohol Use Disorder
According to Alcohol.org, “Binge drinking at a young age, including in college, is linked to an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), sometimes colloquially called alcoholism; about 20% of college students meet the definition of AUD.”
Preventing Binge Drinking in College
Binge drinking negatively affects not only students but also schools. Binge drinking, underage drinking and other harmful drinking behavior can lead to higher health care and security costs, expenses related to campus vandalism and damage to a school’s reputation. For these reasons, it is imperative for school personnel to take an active role in addressing binge drinking.
Tips for Reducing Binge Drinking Among College Students
It’s imperative for school personnel to outline penalties for underage drinking on campus. It’s also vital to discuss the potential effects of alcohol use and educate students about the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem. Additionally, it’s key to keep communication open and regular, stay alert for alcohol-related problems, and develop and improve on-campus alcohol prevention strategies. Finally, it’s crucial to encourage students to reach out for help dealing with alcohol dependence or binge drinking.
College personnel also have access to College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM), a comprehensive resource designed to help address excessive and underage student dinking. With CollegeAIM, school officials are better equipped to identify effective, research-based strategies, measure the effectiveness of current strategies compared with other options, and create a personalized approach that meets students’ needs. College AIM also contains environment-level interventions that target the campus community and individual student interventions that target higher-risk groups like first-year students or members of Greek organizations.
For college students, one drink may appear relatively harmless. But if they quickly follow that drink with three or more, the effects of one binge drinking episode can be dangerous and unpredictable, impacting an entire campus and community. Parents, educators and college officials must all play an active role in educating students about the dangers of binge drinking, setting rules and faithfully enforcing them.