What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol?


Due to the fact that so many college students die from alcohol abuse, many concerned parents, college administrators, politicians, and activists groups are asking what causes college students to abuse alcohol.

The short answer is that college students abuse alcohol because drinking can be fun, because their friends and other students are doing it, because it helps them relax in social situations, because alcohol is so accessible, and because excessive drinking is widely accepted by college students. Obviously, college drinking is a major problem that necessitates immediate attention.

Current Research on College Student Alcohol Abuse

College Drinking is Widespread. Recent research studies reveal that 80% of college students drink alcohol.

Of this group of college drinkers, 40% have engaged in binge drinking (defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one drinking occasion) while 20% have stated that they have involved themselves in 3 or more binge drinking occurrences in the prior two week period.


In 2002, a comprehensive three-year research study was undertaken by the Task Force on College Drinking, under the authority of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Based on the findings of this research, the Task Force calculated that each year, 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol abuse, either from the poisonous or toxic effects of excessive alcohol or from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, approximately 600,000 college students each year are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

Moreover, each year more than 70,000 college students are the victims of date rape or other alcohol-related sexual assaults. And finally, each year another 500,000 college students are inadvertently injured in alcohol-related accidents.

Some Reasons Why College Students Abuse Alcohol

In an enlightening article entitled "What Colleges Are Doing to Address Alcohol and Other Drug Problems" that was written by "The Initiative On Educational Excellence For Hispanic Americans," a number of specific things were articulated that colleges and universities are doing to address alcohol and drug problems.

Turning these positive ideas and actions into negatives produces some insight as to what causes college students to abuse alcohol:

  • Failing to discipline repeat offenders and those who engage in unacceptable behavior associated with substance use.

  • Early closing of the library and recreational facilities.

  • Providing a limited range of alcohol-free social and recreational activities.

  • Failing to monitor sororities and fraternities regarding their compliance with alcohol policies and laws.

  • Weak and poor academic requirements.

  • Failing to notify parents when students engage in serious or repeated violations of alcohol or other drug policies or laws.

  • Local communities and establishments serving alcohol to minors or to intoxicated students.

  • Lacking media campaigns that inform students about the actual amount of drinking that occurs on campus. This is based on the fact that most students overestimate the number of their classmates who drink and the amount that they drink.

  • Increasing alcohol promotions and advertising on campus and in campus publications, especially promotions or ads that feature low-cost drinks.

  • Encouraging alcohol-industry support for athletic programs. Accepting such funding can be seen as sending mixed messages about the college administration's stance on alcohol.

  • Scheduling few or no classes on Fridays. When there are no Friday classes, this actually deemphasizes academics and encourages the alcohol-fueled partying that may occur on Thursday nights.

When people ask why college drinking is so widespread and "What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol" the answers are probably many. But based on the above analysis, the simplest answer is this: "Because they can."

When there are so few immediate consequences for excessive drinking, when repeat offenders are not disciplined, when parents are not notified about their children's drinking activities, when students get mixed messages from the college administration about alcohol, when students have seen their parents drinking alcohol in an irresponsible manner, when students are not informed about the long-tern negative consequences of alcohol abuse, when there are few alcohol-free social and recreational activities that are attractive to students, when minors or intoxicated students are served alcoholic beverages by the local drinking establishments, and when the drinking activities in the sororities and fraternities are not monitored---drinking and excessive drinking become so very easy.

When peer pressure or influence is added to the equation, when it is disregarded that drinking alcohol temporarily removes a person from his or her problems, when ignoring the belief or perception that drinking alcohol makes it easier to socialize with potential dating or sexual partners, when it is so acceptable to engage in activities that emphasize the drinking of alcohol, when the "good feelings" or the "fun" of getting an alcohol high or buzz are not considered, and when the party atmosphere at college is expected by students----it become more clear regarding what causes college students to abuse alcohol.


Conclusion: What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol?

In a word, college students abuse alcohol because they can, because drinking makes them feel good, and because drinking helps them relax and open up more in social situations. College students also abuse alcohol because drinking can be fun, because their friends and other students are doing it, and because of peer pressure and peer influence.

Finally, college students engage in alcohol abuse because alcohol is so accessible and because excessive drinking is widely accepted by many in the college student population. Clearly, college drinking is part of the college experience in the U.S.