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Profile of a College Binge Drinker

Binge drinking is a form of rapid alcohol consumption that leaves you legally drunk in a short span of time. More Americans engage in this practice than in any other form of excessive alcohol intake, and current evidence shows that college students between the ages of 18 and 22 have a higher chance of participating in alcohol binging than people in any other age group.
Alcoholism and College Binge Drinking

Unfortunately, students who binge have increased risks for a range of serious problems, including physical assault exposure, sexual assault exposure and accidental death. A number of factors help explain why so many people enrolled in college get involved in rapid alcohol intoxication. Let’s take a look at the factors that help create the profile of a college binge drinker.

Social Changes From High School to College

One of the factors that generally increases the risks for alcohol binging is the change in social environment that occurs when a young person leaves high school and begins college. While in high school and living at home, most teenagers make regular contact with their parents and must follow at least some of their parents’ general rules of conduct. However, when teenagers move away from home and start college, their opportunity for parental contact usually falls off significantly, and they face a much lower level of day-to-day oversight. This means that college students have much more freedom to determine their own behaviors, including their drinking behaviors. Relatively lax schedules and large amounts of free time also play a role.

Increased Alcohol Availability

As a rule, it’s much easier to obtain alcohol in college than in high school. A couple of factors help explain this situation. First, since older students can drink legally, they may serve as convenient alcohol sources for younger students below the drinking age. In addition, for a number of reasons, enforcement of underage drinking laws is notoriously uneven in college and university towns. This means that even underage students may have a relatively easy time obtaining alcohol on their own.

Social Pressure

There is a longstanding tradition of drinking on many college campuses. In fact, many students (and adults) consider excessive alcohol consumption while enrolled in school a “rite of passage.” Even when they have no previous history of alcohol use or excessive drinking, incoming freshmen face strong social pressure to adapt to the norm and start drinking for the first time or increase their existing alcohol intake. The worst of this pressure typically occurs in the initial six weeks of the fall semester.

Participation in Fraternities and Sororities

Some colleges and universities have well-established Greek systems with large numbers of fraternities and/or sororities. Broadly speaking, alcohol consumption is higher on campuses with strong Greek traditions. What’s more, out of all groups living on or off campus, students who belong to a fraternity or sorority maintain the highest rate of alcohol intake. (Students who live at home and commute to school have the lowest rate of intake.)

Psychological Factors

The last area of the human brain to develop is the region responsible for impulse control and logical thinking. Current research shows that this area doesn’t reach maturity until the average person reaches the age of 25. This means that the vast majority of college students have not fully developed their ability to make wise decisions and avoid participating in risky behaviors. Still, some students do better at logical thinking and impulse control than others.

A recent study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism looked at the factors that make a young adult more likely to participate in binge drinking. All of the people enrolled in this project were young women attending college. After testing the ability to control behavior, the study’s authors found that students have a higher chance of binging on alcohol when they have a hard time stopping themselves from responding to drinking-related signals in their environment.

The Full Profile

So, as we can see, the overlapping effects of several factors help form of the profile of a college student who binges on alcohol. From decreased parental oversight, increased access to alcohol and social pressure to membership in a fraternity/sorority and difficulty avoiding a response to drinking cues, each of these factors contributes to the odds of participation. Awareness of this fact can help you and your college-age child gain a better understanding of the risks and learn how to stop binge drinking before it begins.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: College Drinking College Alcohol-Related Statistics

Florida Atlantic University: New Study Pinpoints Behavior Type Linked to Binge Drinking

Alcohol and Alcoholism: Inhibitory Performance Predicting Drinking Behaviors Among Young Adults                               

Posted on December 17th, 2016

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