Sobering Stats: Alcohol Abuse in College Far More Prevalent Than Thought

Personal Health

Animal House is an almost universally loved movie among the boomer generation. Say “Toga party!” to anyone of a certain age and you are almost guaranteed a smile. The memory of John Belushi and friends drinking and drugging their way through college brings big laughs, until we ponder the fact that Belushi’s appetite for drink and drugs things in real life led to his tragic early demise.

In truth, as it pertains to drinking in college, Animal House is not so far from reality. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, we should be worrying way more about drinking in college than about drug use. Alcohol is the most widely abused drug among America’s young. More will try drinking than smoking, and they begin experimenting with alcohol at very early ages. That includes teen binge drinking, since teen brains are still developing, and the self-control of a fully mature brain is not there yet in a teenager. The statistics are eye-opening. Four out of five college students drink alcoholic beverages, and half of those binge-drink.

Project Know, an alcohol and drug treatment center, recently conducted a survey of over 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 23, to get a better picture of their drinking habits. The results are sobering.

Consumption habits

More than 89% of the students surveyed admitted to drinking alcohol at some point during their time in college. Almost 39% said they had driven after drinking. More frightening is that a quarter of those surveyed also admitted to driving while actually drunk (26.7%), and 42% said they had been in a car with a driver who was drunk. Almost 46% experienced blackouts from drinking.

One of the prime reasons people drink is to loosen inhibitions, but combine that with the natural risk-taking nature of a teenager, and bad things can happen. Fifty-six percent of the students said they had done something regrettable while under the influence. Almost 61% said they had had some sort of sexual activity, many without any contraceptive protection. These are stats to be concerned about, given that rape is one of the nation’s most under-reported crimes, and one out of five women will be victims of sexual assault.


  • 78% have been hung over
  • 11% admitted to wetting their beds due to alcohol consumption
  • 71% have thrown up from alcohol and 18% of those have thrown up in bed
  • 37% have missed classes due to alcohol
  • 45% have known students who have been hospitalized due to alcohol abuse
  • 30% have been injured while under the influence
  • 9% know someone who has died due to alcohol abuse

Frats rule…in alcohol abuse

Surveyed students belonging to fraternities were 6% more likely to drink than non-Greeks. Ninety-four percent of frat members admitted to drinking booze (vs. 88% for non-frat). Sixty-four percent drank more than two drinks on a weekday (vs. 49% non-frat). Frat members drank, on average, three days a week (vs. 2% for non-frat). In almost every category surveyed, the Greeks beat the non-Greeks in drinking. That includes bedwetting (17% vs. 7%). 

Drinking by gender

Here’s a surprise: More women reported drinking in college than men, though not by much (91% vs. 88% of men). And worryingly, given the above stats on sexual assault, more women report sexual activity while under the influence (61% vs. 60% for men). In almost every other category, however, women are less likely to abuse alcohol.

Drinking by age group

The survey results showed that freshman and seniors are most at risk from alcohol abuse. While seniors dominated most abuse categories, like drinking during daytime hours, blacking out, playing drinking games, and missing classes due to hangovers, freshman dominated in more worrisome categories, like frequency of hangovers, throwing up, driving drunk or riding with drunk drivers, and engaging in sexual activities while under the influence.

For freshman, drinking may be due to feeling the pressure to fit in with their peers. For older seniors, alcohol seems to be more about socialization (drinking games, for instance). However, this normalization of drinking also puts seniors more at risk for binge drinking.

Drinking by region

College students in the Midwest win the dubious prize for most drinking, at more than 92%. That’s followed by the South, at 90%, the Northeast at 89% and the West at 86%. Cold winters in the Midwest may be a contributing factor in the higher percentage of drinkers. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is suspected of boosting the number of drinkers.

While Midwesterners may drink more, the Northeast has more college students who know a peer who has been hospitalized for drinking-related issues (almost 54%), followed by the Midwest (49%), the South 43%), and the West (38%). The South, however, leads in students who know someone their age who has died from drinking-related causes. Almost 11% of college students in the South know a peer who has died, followed by the Midwest (almost 10%), the Northeast (8%), and the West (a little less than 8%).

View the full survey.

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