What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol?


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

The simple answer is that college students abuse alcohol because their friends and other students are doing it, because alcohol is so accessible, because drinking can be fun, because excessive drinking is widely accepted by college students, and because it helps them relax in social situations.

Not only this, but due to the fact that college drinking is so much an accepted part of the "college experience," significantly reducing college alcohol abuse is a problem with few, if any, simple solutions.

College Student Alcohol Abuse: Current Research

College Drinking is Extensive. According to the current research literature, 80% of college students drink alcohol. While 20% of this group of college drinkers stated that they have engaged in 3 or more binge drinking situations in the previous two week period, 40% articulated that they have engaged in binge drinking at least once.


What is binge drinking? Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women in one drinking occasion.

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

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

Not only this, but according to this research study, each year, roughly 600,000 college students are assaulted by a fellow student who has been drinking.

In addition, approximately 500,000 college students each year are inadvertently injured in alcohol-related accidents. And finally, more than 70,000 college students each year are the victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults such as date rape.

Turning Positives Into Negatives for Some Insight

In an informative and thought provoking 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 positive actions were listed that college and university administrators are initiating to address on-campus as well as off-campus alcohol and drug problems.

Changing these "positive" ideas and actions into negatives produces some relevant and valuable insights into the causes of alcohol abuse by college students.

  • Weak and poor academic requirements.

  • 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.

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

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

  • Early closing of the library and recreational facilities.

  • 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.

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

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

  • 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.

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

A Deeper Level of Investigation

When various individuals ask "What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol," the answers are perhaps many, but based on the above list of "negatives,", however, the short and sweet answer is this: "Because they can."

A deeper, more thorough level of analysis, however, reveals the following reasons why drinking and alcohol abuse by college students is so easy:

  • When students get mixed messages from the college administration about alcohol

  • When the drinking activities in the sororities and fraternities are not monitored

  • When minors or intoxicated students are served alcoholic beverages by the local drinking establishments

  • When peer pressure or influence is added to the equation

  • When students have seen their parents drinking alcohol in an irresponsible manner

  • When it is disregarded that drinking alcohol temporarily removes a person from his or her problems

  • When students are not informed about the long-tern negative consequences of alcohol abuse

  • When ignoring the belief or perception that drinking alcohol makes it easier to socialize with potential dating or sexual partners

  • When there are few alcohol-free social and recreational activities that are attractive to students

  • When there are so few immediate consequences for excessive drinking

  • When it is so acceptable to engage in activities that emphasize the drinking of alcohol

  • When repeat offenders are not disciplined

  • When the "good feelings" or the "fun" of getting an alcohol high or buzz are not considered

  • When parents are not notified about their children's drinking activities

  • When the party atmosphere at college is expected by many of the students


Conclusion: What Causes College Students to Abuse Alcohol?

What causes college student to abuse alcohol? Stated simply, college students abuse alcohol because they can, because their friends and other students are doing it, because drinking can be fun, because of peer pressure and peer influence, because drinking helps them relax and open up more in social situations, and because drinking makes them feel good.

And finally, college students engage in alcohol abuse because irresponsible drinking is accepted by many in the college student community and because alcohol is so easily accessible.

With all of these factors, it is clear that college drinking and college alcohol abuse are problems that have few, if any easy solutions.