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Updated on July 10, 2023
6 min read

Who Alcohol Use Disorder Affects - College Students

Alcohol Abuse in College Students

College alcoholism is a severe issue in the United States and other countries. Roughly 80 percent of college students ingest alcohol to some degree while in college. 

An estimated 50 percent of these students end up binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as reaching a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dl or above by consuming more than four drinks over two hours

While most binge drinkers aren’t alcohol dependent, serious risks are still involved. A variety of problems on U.S. college campuses stem from alcohol consumption.


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Negative Effects of Alcohol on College Students

Drinking may be part of the “college experience,” but it often has unwanted effects. These can include short-term and long-term impacts on college students from all socio-economic, ethnic, and academic backgrounds.

Some possible short- and long-term effects of student alcohol use include:

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is when someone consumes too much alcohol at one time. This is a dangerous condition because it causes serious complications. The signs of alcohol poisoning include: 

  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Memory Loss

Too much alcohol consumption slows down how nerves communicate with each other. Students who drink heavily risk not remembering what happened while they're drunk. In some cases, others may appear to function normally but have no recollection of their memories.

Higher Involvement in Criminal Acts

When you're drunk, you don't think clearly. You might make poor decisions that could result in negative consequences, such as getting arrested. Every year, 316,032 Americans are arrested for drunkenness.8

Drunk students are also more likely to be victims of criminal acts. These criminal acts may include the following:

  • Driving while intoxicated 
  • Drug use or abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Date rape
  • Violence against others
  • Theft 
  • Vandalism

A Decline in Academic Performance

Drinking too much alcohol can affect your ability to learn. It's common for people who consume large amounts of alcohol to perform poorly on tests.

They might miss assignments or fail classes. One in every four college students experiences academic problems due to drinking.7 

Weight Gain 

Alcohol contains many empty calories that contribute to weight gain. This causes some students to put on extra pounds during their college years. Drinking also leads to poor eating habits, such as overeating.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) develops when someone has a heavy drinking pattern.

It's a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.

Lasting Physical, Emotional, or Mental Damage

The body may become damaged after prolonged exposure to alcohol. Examples include liver damage, heart failure, and memory impairment. 

Many college students still have developing brains, and heavy alcohol use can lead to lasting physical, emotional, or mental damage.

About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year due to accidental, alcohol-related injuries.

NIAAA study

Causes of College Alcohol Abuse

Drinking is viewed as an integral part of the “college experience” by many students across North America. College is a socially tricky time for many students.

It is not surprising that most risk factors associated with college drinking revolve around social situations. Some of these factors include:

  • Drinking events (such as tailgating and birthday parties)
  • Peer pressure
  • Ease of access to alcohol
  • Social anxiety
  • Social acceptance and normative behavior
  • Experimentation (especially if students are away from home)

Alcohol abuse is most common when young adults drink alcohol to get drunk rather than socialize. 

Heavy drinking (several days per week) also leads to alcohol tolerance, making it more challenging to reach the desired state of intoxication. This can lead to alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Fraternities and sororities are often focal points for college binge drinking and substance abuse. A 2018 study conducted at the University of Michigan found that 45 percent of residential fraternity members report AUD symptoms reflecting mild to severe cases by the age of 35.5

This shows that when students develop drinking problems in college, the potential effects can last long past their college years. 

Preventing Alcoholism in College Students

It’s unlikely to prevent students from drinking alcohol altogether. However, educating them on the potential dangers of unhealthy patterns of drinking and other prevention efforts may help save students seeking higher education.

Other ways to prevent alcoholism in college students include:

  • Encouraging students to seek counseling if they have drinking problems or a family history of alcoholism
  • Educating students about alcohol’s effects on the body
  • Providing information about how to avoid situations that lead to excessive drinking
  • Helping students understand why it’s important to drink responsibly

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Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

There are long-term and short-term symptoms of alcohol abuse. College students may not be aware of the immediate risks or the severity of what may develop over time. 

Problematic use can lead to more severe health problems such as:

  • Addiction (physical or psychological dependence)
  • Brain damage (dementia, difficulties with coordination and motor control)
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Liver damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Impotence in men
  • Menstrual irregularities in women
  • Death

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Treatment Options for Addiction

There are several treatment options for alcohol addiction in college students, regardless of severity.

The first step (and main component) of recovery is detox, which allows the substance to leave an addicted person’s system. This includes a self-imposed detox for mild cases or a medical detox for more severe cases. During medical detox, professionals administer medication to help with withdrawal symptoms.

Mild cases involve experiencing more than two but less than five of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria outlined by the NIAAA. Severe cases involve experiencing more than eight of the twelve possible criteria outlined in the DSM.

Other treatment options include:

  • Counseling can help treat underlying issues involved in creating an addiction to alcohol. Treatment providers help college students cope with the pressures and stresses associated with college that often lead to alcohol abuse and addiction.
  • Treating co-occurring issues (eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder) will also help resolve the underlying problems that lead to many alcohol use disorder cases (previously called alcohol addiction or alcoholism).
  • Outpatient treatment is an option for college students with milder addictions. These outpatient centers provide withdrawal medication and counseling without interfering with the student’s day-to-day schedule.
  • Inpatient treatment is an option for students with more severe cases of alcohol addiction. Off-campus treatment centers help these students recover away from their college environment. 

Alcohol addiction develops over an extended period, especially compared to other drugs. If you are concerned about your drinking habits or those of somebody you know, find treatment today.


Alcoholism in college students is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. It can cause lasting physical and psychological damage. 

The best way to prevent this is to be aware of the warning signs and seek help immediately. Different treatment options are available to prevent and treat alcoholism in college students.

Updated on July 10, 2023
8 sources cited
Updated on July 10, 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. LaBrie, 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, 2007. 
  2. “Binge Drinking.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  3. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.”National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. “Problematic Alcohol Use.” Health Canada.
  5. McCabe, S.E., et al. “How Collegiate Fraternity and Sorority Involvement Relates to Substance Use during Young Adulthood and Substance Use Disorders in Early Midlife: A National Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 2018.
  6. “College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
  7. “Fall Semester—A Time for Parents To Discuss the Risks of College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  8. "Drug Related Crime Statistics." National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.
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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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