College Alcohol Study HSPH
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Frequently Asked Questions


  1. What is binge drinking?

    The College Alcohol Study defines college binge drinkers as male students who have had five or more drinks in a row at least once in a two-week period and female students who have had four or more drinks in a row. A drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce wine cooler, or a shot of liquor taken straight or in a mixed drink. This measure of binge drinking is a simple and direct indicator of problems. It is not intended to be a chemical measure, as is a Breathalyzer test. It is a public health screening device. Binge drinkers experience and cause more problems than students who do not binge drink.

    An occasional binge drinker is a student who binged once or twice in a two-week period. A frequent binge drinker is a student who binged three or more times in a two-week period.

    For the most comprehensive treatment of the topic see: Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses.
    Wechsler H, Wuethrich B. Rodale Books, Paperback 2003.

  2. Why do students binge drink? What are the causes?

    Binge drinking is a complex behavior stemming from many factors. These include genetic and familial predisposition, social and peer influences, college traditions, uncontrolled policy environments, and the easy availability of alcohol. No single factor can fully account for binge drinking behavior.

    The following papers provide an overview of the factors related to binge drinking:

    Correlates Of College Student Binge Drinking
    Wechsler H, Dowdall G, Davenport A, Castillo S. American Journal of Public Health 1995; 85: 921-926

    Environmental Correlates of Underage Alcohol Use and Related Problems of College Students
    Wechsler H, Kuo M, Lee H, Dowdall G. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 2000, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 24-29.

  3. How are the statistics on college binge drinking broken down by race, ethnicity, different cultures, different parts of the country, type of school, year in school, GPA, Greek affiliation, and involvement in athletics?

    Binge drinking behavior varies by age, gender, race and ethnicity and other student characteristics. By examining binge drinking for each of these student groups, researchers and prevention planners can learn more about the behavior and develop strategies to prevent it. The breakdown can be found in two publications:

    The 2000 CAS Monograph, Binge Drinking on America's College Campuses: Findings From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study

    College Binge Drinking in the 1990s: A Continuing Problem — Results of the Harvard School of Public Health 1999 College Alcohol Study
    Wechsler H, Lee J, Kuo M, Lee H Journal of American College Health 2000 March; 48 (10): 199-210.

  4. What are current prevention efforts to curb college binge drinking?

    According to our research, college administrators across the country reported that their schools engaged in a wide variety of efforts designed to prevent and curb binge drinking.

    • General alcohol education programs. Many schools provide alcohol education programs. However, despite high levels of these general education programs, fewer schools provide more targeted education to such groups as Greek-affiliated students or athletes, even though these students are known to represent above-average alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problem levels on many campuses.
    • Restrictions on the supply of alcohol: These measures include prohibiting keg delivery to dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses, restrictions on alcohol sales at intercollegiate sports events and tailgate parties.
    • Restricting alcohol advertisements: Some schools have restricted alcohol advertising at home sporting events, and a few prohibit advertisements for off-campus bars or clubs in campus newspapers or on bulletin boards.
    • Living Environment: Some schools offer alcohol-free dormitories and living spaces.
    • Other measures: These includes school efforts in providing infrastructure to monitor and respond to students' problem drinking. Some schools have a designated individual in charge of issues related to alcohol and other drug abuse and/or a task force, working group, or coalition charged to work in the area of substance abuse. Some schools are conducting social norms campaigns to inform students about actual levels of drinking on campus, which in some cases are lower than what students think exists.

    For more information on prevention efforts please see:
    What Colleges Are Doing About Student Binge Drinking — A Survey of College Administrators
    Wechsler H, Kelley K, Weitzman E, San Giovanni J, Seibring M. Journal of American College Health 2000 March; 48 (10): 219-226.)

  5. I am interested in data on college binge drinking for my school. Can you send that to me?

    No, data on individual schools that participate in the College Alcohol Study is kept strictly confidential.

  6. What are the effects and results of binge drinking?

    Every year, students die in alcohol-related tragedies: acute alcohol poisonings, car accidents, drownings, falls, and fights. While such tragedies are relatively rare, they underscore the multiple, far-reaching consequences of binge drinking. Compared to non-binge drinkers, frequent bingers are 17 times more likely to miss a class, 10 times more likely to vandalize property, and eight times more likely to get hurt or injured as a result of their drinking. Binge drinking also contributes to poor academic performance.

    The second-hand effects of binge drinking also harm and violate the rights of others on campus. These range from automobile-related fatalities to serious injuries, from vandalism and physical assaults to problems of everyday life such as losing sleep and study time.

    Binge drinking is also a women's health issue. Heavy alcohol use coupled with inexperience with drinking puts young women in serious jeopardy for sexual assault. About 10 percent of female students who are frequent binge drinkers report being raped or subjected to nonconsensual sex, compared to only 3 percent of non-bingeing female students. Furthermore, most campus rapes occur after heavy drinking.

  7. What is the connection between high school binge drinking and college binge drinking?

    Many students who engaged in binge drinking in high school continue this behavior when they get to college. Very few high school binge drinkers stop binge drinking in college. However, many students who did not binge drink in high school begin binge drinking in college. Some aspects of the college environment may promote binge drinking. Colleges should consider action to help prevent those students who did not binge drink in high school from taking up this behavior in college.

    For more information on high school drinking and substance abuse, please consult the Monitoring the Future Study

  8. Where can students go if they feel they or someone they know has a problem with binge drinking?

    The following links provide various information and resources on college binge drinking. However, most colleges have some level of alcohol prevention or intervention services available to students, we encourage you to seek out these resources on your own campus as well.
    Spotlights the latest alcohol-related news and provides valuable links to binge drinking and college drinking resources.

    Alcohol Screening

    Join Together Online
    A project of the Boston University School of Public Health, Join Together is a national resource for communities working to reduce substance abuse and gun violence.

    National Institutes of Health National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
    Contains links to research databases, as well as a list of upcoming conferences and events and a FAQ section.

    Mothers Against Drunk Driving
    Provides news, statistics and the latest information on MADD's activities to stop drunk driving and underage drinking.

    National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
    Includes facts, history and advocacy information, as well as a resource and referral guide to national organizations working in the field of alcohol and drug addiction. — binge drinking blows


  9. How often does the College Alcohol Survey take place and how long will it continue in the future?

    The College Alcohol Study has conducted four national surveys from 1993 to 2001. They included 17,592 students in 1993, 15,685 in 1997, 14,941 in 1999, and 10,904 in 2001. Students at 140 four-year colleges and universities in 40 states and the District of Columbia participated.

  10. Where do students binge drink the most — parties, bars, dorms, fraternity houses?

    Fraternities and sororities, and intercollegiate athletics are centers of alcohol abuse on campuses. While student binge drinkers tend to be male, white, and under 24 years of age, the strongest predictor of binge drinking is fraternity or sorority residence or membership. Four of five students who live in fraternities and sororities are binge drinkers.

    Athletes binge more than others. In 1999, 29 percent of athletes were frequent binge drinkers, compared to 22 percent of non-athletes.

    Students least likely to binge are African American or Asian, or aged 24 years or older, or married. As a group, African Americans, and particularly women, have the lowest prevalence of binge drinking. In 1999, only 16 percent of African American students binged, as compared to 49 percent of white students. Students who put a priority on their studies, who devote time to special interests such as art, or who participate in volunteer activities are less likely to binge.

    For more information please see:
    Fraternities, sororities and binge drinking: Results from a national study of American colleges
    Wechsler H, Kuh G, Davenport A. National Association of Deans and Advisors 1996; 33: 260-278.

    Alcohol and College Athletes
    Nelson T. & Wechsler H. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise January, 2001.

  11. How does a college student's binge drinking affect others i.e. fellow students, campus life, the community, and family?

    Many non-bingeing students experience second-hand effects of others' binge drinking. Like second-hand smoke, those effects can range from annoying to deadly.

    Non-binge drinking students who live on high-binge campuses are especially at risk. In 1999, they were twice as likely to suffer second-hand effects than were students at low-binge campuses.

  12. Where was the College Alcohol Study Conducted?

    The colleges in our study represent a cross-section of American schools. Two-thirds are public, one-third are private. Over two-thirds are urban or suburban and about one-third are in small towns or rural settings.

    Fifteen percent are religious institutions, 5 percent enroll women only, and 4 percent are historically black colleges to provide the most representative data for binge drinking and other high risk behaviors on America's campuses.

  13. What does it mean that 44 percent of college students binge drink?

    This figure describes a national average of all colleges in the study. The rates at individual colleges may vary extensively. For example, although the national binge-drinking rate is 44%, the rate ranged from less than 1% at the lowest binge school to 76% at the highest.

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  If you have a question about our research or its implications, please check our FAQ page. If your question has not been answered, we encourage you to submit your inquiry here.