College Binge Drinking: Dangers, Prevention, How to Find Help

Underage drinking on college campuses is described as a “significant public health problem” by experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), particularly for students who participate in binge drinking.

Binge drinking, as defined by NIAAA, is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher. This amounts to about five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a timespan of about two hours.

Despite the risks, many college students view alcohol consumption as an integral part of the college experience. In fact, 53 percent of full-time college students in the United States aged 18 to 22 say they drink alcohol, and 33 percent admit to binge drinking, according to a recent national survey by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA).

By understanding the risks of college binge drinking, learning how to prevent it, and studying how to help if you’re concerned about college alcohol misuse, we can shift the trend in a safer direction.

What Are the Dangers of Binge Drinking in College?

Binge drinking statistics show that underage drinking on college campuses is harmful; and increases a young person’s risk of death, assault, sexual assault, academic problems, alcohol use disorder, and other consequences.

Consider the following recent United States data from NIAAA:

  • Each year in the U.S., about 1,519 college students aged 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • An estimated 696,000 students aged 18 to 24 are assaulted each year by another student who has been drinking.
  • Per year, an estimated 97,000 students aged 18 to 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • About one in four college students per year report experiencing academic difficulties from drinking, such as missing class or getting behind in schoolwork.
  • About 9 percent of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to a 2019 survey.
  • Thousands of college students are taken to emergency rooms each year due to an alcohol overdose, which impacts the brain’s ability to control basic life-support functions, including breathing, heart rate, and temperature control.

How To Teach Kids About the Dangers of Binge Drinking in College

Start having frequent conversations with your kids about alcohol long before they go to college. Educate them about the risks associated with underage drinking in college and in high school and the impact alcohol has on a young person’s brain.

Kids are often not equipped with facts and data about alcohol, but instead, they only see how it’s portrayed as “cool” and “fun” in media and in day-to-day life. Providing them with information from reliable sources can help them make better choices when faced with peer pressure to drink illegally.

How Does a Parent’s Influence Impact a College Student’s Desire to Binge Drink?

Children learn from and follow the example their parents set for them, starting at an earlier age than you may realize. This is why it’s important for parents to model healthy, responsible behavior.

A recent guide from’s Partnership to End Addiction advises parents to avoid suggesting they need alcohol to relax, have fun, or reduce stress. Model healthier ways of coping with hardship or stress, such as exercising. The guide also says to try to keep children from seeing adults in the home drink excessively to the point of being drunk or out of control.

Parents should also set clear expectations about underage drinking and establish consequences if their children break the rules. Punishment should be short-term and should not be overly harsh, but it’s important for parents to follow through with the agreed-upon consequences if they discover their child drank illegally.

What To Do if Your Child is Already Drinking Too Much in College

Rather than considering the behavior an issue of discipline, let your child know you’re concerned about his or her health and safety. It’s important to understand that it’s never too late to start the conversation with your child about the dangers of underage drinking and give them the facts about the risks associated with alcohol. The most important thing to remember when teaching teens about alcohol is to connect with them on their level. The moment it becomes a lecture, your teen will tune you out.

Talk It Out NC equips parents and mentors with reliable information and resources to help guide young people whose families are concerned about binge drinking.

Take the Pledge to Talk It Out together and help end binge drinking and underage drinking for good.