National Studies (1993-2001) Assess Binge Drinking Among College Students

From 1993 to 2001, Henry Wechsler, PhD, and researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health conducted four national surveys examining the drinking patterns and practices of American college students.

The College Alcohol Study identified key individual and environmental factors related to heavy episodic or "binge" drinking and evaluated institutional policies and programs designed to control alcohol problems

Key Findings

  • Key findings from what the New York Times called "a landmark national study of binge drinking among college students" (Carey Goldberg, September 11, 1998) encompass more than 80 publications.

    These include a 1994 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that drew national attention to the problem of college binge drinking and its "secondhand" effects on non-drinkers, according to the Boston Globe (Doloras Kong, September 27, 1997).

    Publications on the College Alcohol Study in public health, psychological, economic, medical, psychiatric, educational, alcohol and substance abuse journals are among the most widely cited articles on college drinking, according to the Science Citation Index.

    Findings include:

    • Two in five students attending four-year colleges in the United States are binge drinkers. This result was consistent over the four surveys—1993, 1997, 1999 and 2001.
    • Nationally, one in five college students is a frequent binge drinker. Frequent binge drinkers (students who had binged three or more times in the past two weeks) consumed 72 percent of all alcohol consumed by college students.
    • The rate of binge drinking remained stable from 1993 to 2001 despite widespread efforts to address the problem through educational and motivational programs aimed at students.
    • The alcohol environments in the colleges and their surrounding communities—the availability, price and marketing of alcohol; college prevention policies; community and state laws; and their enforcement—play a significant role in determining binge drinking rates.
    • Binge drinkers, particularly those who do so frequently, experience a range of alcohol related problems affecting their physical, psychological, social and educational status.
    • The negative impact of college student alcohol abuse is not limited to the drinkers themselves. Students who attended schools with high rates of binge drinking experienced a greater number of secondhand effects, including disruption of sleep or study; property damage; and verbal, physical or sexual violence, than their peers attending schools with low binge drinking rates. Neighbors living in the vicinity of colleges with high rates of binge drinking were also more likely to experience negative effects of heavy drinking, such as noise disturbances and vandalism, compared with people living near colleges with low rates of binge drinking and with people who did not live near a college.