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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
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Updated on July 31, 2023
6 min read

College Alcoholics

What Does “College Alcoholism” Mean?

College alcoholism is a series of frequent heavy drinking during or throughout your college years. Many students entering college use their freedom and independence to experiment with alcohol.

Four out of five college students drink alcohol to some degree. A college student may be tempted to drink more because many campus social activities provide easy access to alcohol.

Often, one drink can easily turn into two or more drinks. However, constantly drinking or binge drinking weekly can increase the risk of tolerance, addiction, and dependence.


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What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a form of excessive alcohol consumption common among college students. It’s defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher.

However, binge drinking is defined differently depending on your gender:

  • For men: Binge drinking means consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in two hours
  • For women: Binge drinking means four or more alcoholic beverages in two hours

Not everyone who binge drinks has a drinking problem. However, binge drinking is a slippery slope that can lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

What’s the Difference Between Binge Drinking & Heavy Drinking?

Binge drinking is four to five standard drinks in two hours. On the other hand, heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking for five or more days a month.1

The definition of heavy drinking is also different depending on your gender:

  • For men: Four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week
  • For women: Three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week

Side Effects of Heavy Drinking

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to several health problems, such as:

  • Alcohol overdose
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Mental health problems like anxiety or depression
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Liver disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death

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Risks of College Alcohol Use & Misuse

Alcohol abuse leads to negative consequences for your health. However, college alcoholism leads to many issues, like: 

  • Poor academic performance
  • Missing class and other academic consequences
  • Alcohol-related unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Alcohol-related sexual assault
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Financial problems
  • Legal consequences

College alcoholism doesn’t only affect the student struggling with alcohol addiction. It also involves students, their families, and the college communities.


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College Drinking Statistics

College binge drinking is a common occurrence. According to a survey in 2021, about 53 percent of full-time college students, ages 18 to 22, drank alcohol in the last month. About 33 percent of them also engaged in binge drinking behaviors.1

And around 9 percent of full-time college students, ages 18 to 22, meet the criteria for alcoholism. Other statistics include:1

  • One in four college students who drink report experiencing academic troubles from drinking
  • College students who binge drink are six times more likely to perform poorly on tests 
  • College students who binge drink are five times more likely to miss class
  • About 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related injuries, such as car crashes
  • Roughly 696,000 students ages 18 to 24 report having been assaulted by another student who has been drinking
  • Almost 97,000 students ages 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape

Why Is Drinking Common in College?

Drinking among college students can be attributed to several reasons. Social camaraderie is the most common reason for college drinking.9

Many college students attend parties and other social gatherings that involve alcohol. Students may also start engaging in alcohol abuse to deal with life and school stressors.

The first six weeks of freshman year can be the most vulnerable time for many first-year college students. They may face expectations and social pressures at the start of their college career.9

Who is At Risk of College Alcoholism?

Students at colleges with established Greek systems tend to drink more. Drinking may be part of their fraternity or sorority culture.

Alcohol consumption is higher among students who live with their fraternities or sororities. It’s lower among students who live with their families. Likewise, colleges with prominent sports programs also are high-risk environments for students. 

Signs Your College Friend May Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

A college alcoholic, or any other alcoholic, often exhibits signs of alcoholism. If your college friend is showing any of the following signs, they may have an AUD:

  • An inability to limit their drinking
  • Continuing to consume more and more alcohol despite health, social, academic, or legal issues
  • Developing a high tolerance for alcohol that requires them to drink a larger amount of alcohol to get drunk
  • Neglecting their hygiene and nutrition to drink more alcohol
  • Drinking alone from time to time (or, worse, often)
  • Letting their school obligations and responsibilities like homework and sports fall to the wayside
  • Lying to you or making excuses about their drinking habits
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you or someone you know is struggling with AUD, reach out for professional help to stop drinking immediately. If it’s your friend, staging an intervention can help before the situation worsens.

Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, is a serious and potentially deadly condition. This happens after you drink too much alcohol quickly.

Side effects include:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Skin that looks blue, gray, or pale
  • Low body temperature
  • Trouble staying conscious or awake

If you think that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, get medical attention right away.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Once you’ve become dependent on alcohol, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop. Symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Alcohol withdrawal is a potentially life-threatening condition. If you or someone you know is experiencing withdrawal, seek immediate medical attention.

Treatment Options for Alcoholic College Students

If you, a friend at college, or someone you know suffers from AUD or substance abuse, help is available. However, everyone responds to treatment differently.

Talk to your doctor about different treatment options to find one that caters to your needs. Here are some addiction treatment options for alcoholic college students to explore:


College alcoholism is a period of frequent alcohol consumption throughout college. It often occurs due to the accessibility of alcohol and students’ newfound independence from their families.

Some college students start drinking to handle and manage stress. However, heavy or binge drinking often has various harmful consequences for your health and life. Fortunately, various treatment options can help you recover from alcohol use. If your or someone you know is abusing alcohol, seek professional help.

Updated on July 31, 2023
14 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
  2. Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. 
  3. Anderson, Doug, and Mary Reid. “Moderation Management Non-Profit for Self-Managed Alcohol Moderation.” Moderation Management™, 2021. 
  4. College Drinking-Facts for Parents.” College Drinking Facts for Parents. 
  5. College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
  6. Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.
  7. Getting Help.” Get Help for Alcohol-Related Issues. 
  8. LaBrie et al. “Reasons for Drinking in the College Student Context: the Differential Role and Risk of the Social Motivator.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007. 
  9. Quinn et al. “Alcohol Use and Related Problems among College Students and Their Noncollege Peers: the Competing Roles of Personality and Peer Influence.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Rutgers University, 2011. 
  10. Self Help Addiction Recovery Program: Alternative to AA,” SMART Recovery, 2021. 
  11. Skerrett, P. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics’.” Harvard Health Blog, 2020.
  12. Turrisi et al. “Heavy Drinking in College Students: Who Is at Risk and What Is Being Done about It?” The Journal of General Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2006. 
  13. Videos and Audios.” Alcoholics Anonymous.
  14. Women for Sobriety.” Women For Sobriety, 2021.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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