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Binge Drinking

Why Is Binge Drinking So Common in College? And What Are the Risks?

August 9, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 9, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 9, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 9, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 9, 2023
11 min read

For thousands of college students, college means bunk beds in tiny dorm rooms, study groups, cafeteria food, tailgate parties, finals week stress, and … binge drinking. It’s so common on college campuses that it might seem like just another rite of passage. But what's really going on here? Why is binge drinking so widespread in college, and what are the risks?

Binge Drinking Facts

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men within about 2 hours.

According to the 2020 NIAAA report, almost 55% of college students aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and nearly 37% reported binge drinking in that time period.

The Social Connection

Going to college often means leaving home for the first time, meeting new people, and forging new friendships. Social events, parties, and gatherings become the playground for building these connections, and sadly, alcohol often plays a major role.

It's an exciting time! We make friends, share stories, and create memories that last a lifetime. These interactions aren't just about having a great time — they're also about finding our identity and building our social circle.

College events, parties, and gatherings serve as platforms for these connections. It’s where we meet fellow students, make friends, share interests, and create shared experiences. And more often than not, alcohol has a role to play.

Alcohol is often seen as a social lubricant, easing conversations and alleviating awkwardness or nervousness. However, this perspective creates a societal norm in which drinking becomes associated with fun, relaxation, and social acceptance. It starts with a drink at a party, a casual way to break the ice. However, before we know it, booze is seen as an integral part of social interactions.

Moreover, many college activities and traditions revolve around alcohol. From fraternity parties to tailgating events, alcohol has been integrated into the fabric of college social life. This well established culture often normalizes binge drinking behavior, making it seem like an essential part of the college experience.

Peer Pressure

Remember when you were a kid and you did something you knew you shouldn’t, just because your friends were doing it? That's peer pressure! While we might hope to leave this behind as we grow older, unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way. Peer pressure is alive and well in college, and it often plays a significant role in the prevalence of binge drinking.

In the grand adventure that is college life, nobody wants to feel left out. Whether it's being part of the group, fitting in, or simply not wanting to seem "different," the pressure to conform can be incredibly powerful. Alcohol often becomes the common denominator at social gatherings, and choosing not to partake might make a student feel excluded or “uncool.” The fear of missing out can drive a student to drink excessively, even if they don't really want to.

Stress Relief

Exams, papers, projects — oh my! College can be stressful, and some students might turn to alcohol as a way to unwind and forget about their troubles temporarily.

Alcohol's ability to trigger the release of dopamine in the brain creates a temporary feeling of relaxation and euphoria, which can seem quite appealing when you're trying to escape stress. However, this effect is fleeting, and in reality, alcohol is a depressant that can exacerbate stress and anxiety over time.

Additionally, the practice of using alcohol to cope with stress sets a risky precedent. It promotes an unhealthy coping mechanism, teaching the brain to associate stress relief with drinking. This habit can stick around long after college, potentially leading to long-term issues with alcohol.

What Are the Risks?

  • Physical health problems. Excessive drinking can lead to liver disease, heart problems, and even alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency and is experienced by thousands of college students every year.
  • Mental health issues. Binge drinking can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, affecting academic performance and overall well-being.
  • Risk of injuries. According to the report by Stanford Medicine, an average of 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries, which include car crashes, falls, burns, drownings, and hypothermia.
  • Sexual assault. The same report states that 696,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking every year. Moreover, an average of 97,000 college students per year report incidents of date rape or sexual assault related to alcohol.
  • Academic impact. Roughly one in four college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. Poor academic performance comes with a hefty price and might jeopardize scholarships or future career opportunities.
  • Addiction. Consistent binge drinking can pave the way for alcohol dependence and addiction, a serious and chronic disorder that may require professional intervention. As much as 20% of the college student population in the U.S. meets the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) — a shockingly high percentage!
  • Legal consequences. Underage drinking and public intoxication can lead to legal troubles, jeopardizing future job opportunities or even leading to jail time. And that’s no way to spend those precious young adult years!

What You Can Do

If you're someone looking to quit or cut back on alcohol, here are some specific action steps to help you stay on track:

  • Choose your journey. While it's natural to want to fit in and be part of the crowd, it's essential to understand that real friends will respect your decisions, including the decision not to drink. The college journey is about discovering your own identity and making choices that align with your values and well-being. And guess what? It's perfectly okay if your choices don't align with the crowd's!
  • Find alternative activities. Engage in hobbies or activities that don't involve alcohol, such as joining a sports team or an art club. While alcohol may appear to make socializing easier, it's important to remember that genuine connections don’t require booze,and they’re actually better off without it! Real friendships are built on shared interests, values, and experiences — not just shared drinks.
  • Educate yourself and set clear goals. Understanding the risks associated with binge drinking can strengthen your resolve. Make your intentions clear by setting achievable goals related to reducing or quitting alcohol.
  • Create a support network. Reach out to friends or family members who can support your decision to reduce or eliminate alcohol.
  • Seek professional help if needed. There’s no shame in asking for help! Counseling and therapy can provide individualized strategies to help you with your journey.

Wrapping Up

College is a time of exploration, growth, and learning, but it doesn’t have to include binge drinking. By understanding the factors that make binge drinking so common, and recognizing the potential risks, you can make informed decisions that support your health and your future. Now, who's ready for some pizza and popcorn during study breaks instead of booze? Remember, life's great moments don't have to come from a bottle!

Relax and Start Your Healing Journey With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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