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College Student Binge Drinking Causes Problems Throughout School


January 1995

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that campus binge drinking causes a host of problems for drinkers -- and nondrinkers (Henry Wechsler, Ph.D.,, "Health and Behavioral Consequences of Binge Drinking in College," Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 7, 1994, p. 1672-1677; "The Disruptions of Campus Drunkenness," US News & World Report, Dec. 19, 1994, p. 12).

Almost half (44%) of the 17,096 students from 140 4-year colleges reported binge drinking in the two weeks before the survey. 19 percent were frequent binge drinkers, meaning they engaged in binge drinking at least three times in the last two weeks.

Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks in a row by men, and four or more drinks in a row for women.

The binge drinkers were seven to ten times more likely than nonbinge drinkers or infrequent binge drinkers to be involved in a number of problem situations such as having unplanned and/or unprotected sex, getting injured, damaging property, or being in trouble with police. Despite these problems and their self-reported level of alcohol use, only 0.6% of binge drinkers said they had a problem with alcohol.

The study also looked at "secondary binge effects" -- the effects binge drinkers have on other students at the college or university. Schools were classified according to the rate of binge drinking among the students (at high-level binging schools (44 of 140), 51% or more of students were classified as binge drinkers, at middle-level binging schools (53 of 140), 36%-50% of students were binge drinkers, and at low-level binging schools (43 of 140), 35% or less of students were binge drinkers).

Students attending schools with high or moderate levels of binge drinking were more likely to report having such problems as being insulted or humiliated, being assaulted, having property damaged, having study or sleep interrupted, or having to take care of a drunk student. 87 percent of students at high binging schools and 82 percent of students at moderate binging schools reported dealing with at least one of these problems, compared with 62 percent at low binging schools.

"In addition to addressing the health problems of alcohol abusers," the authors concluded, "a major effort should address the large group of students who are not binge drinkers on campus who are adversely affected by the alcohol-related behavior of binge drinkers."