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Consequences of High-Risk Drinking

Key Issue
Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Sexual Assault on Campus

Drinking on campus has far-reaching negative consequences. High-risk drinking and underage alcohol use can cause problems for individual students, for campuses as a whole, and for the communities surrounding colleges and universities.

Drinking and Driving
While the death of a student from alcohol poisoning always attracts attention, drinking and driving is the most common cause of alcohol-related deaths among college students. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s 2002 report, “A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges” estimates that 1,400 college students die from alcohol-related causes each year, 1,100 of which involve drinking and driving. In fact, the Core Institute reports that 32.5 percent of students drove a car while under the influence. Yet, only 1.5 percent were arrested for DWI/DUI. This disproportion emphasizes the need for an increase in road checks and stricter law enforcement.

Students and Alcohol on Campus
The NIAAA reports that 25 percent of students report academic problems caused by alcohol use. Students who practice high-risk drinking are at risk for a host of problems, including:

  • A decline in academic performance due to poor grades, missed classes, and falling behind that may lead to academic probation or dropping out of school
  • Engaging in unprotected sex
  • Increased risk of perpetrating or being a victim of violence, including sexual assault, hazing, vandalism, and fights
  • Health problems related to alcohol use
  • Injury, arrest or death due to drinking and driving, or other alcohol-related causes

Students who don’t drink may also experience negative consequences of alcohol use by their peers. These “secondary effects” of alcohol use include study or sleep interruption, taking care of a drunk friend, having an unwanted sexual advance, having property damaged, and being a victim of violence including physical or sexual assault. Over three-quarters of students living on campus have experienced at least one of the negative secondary effects of alcohol use at their school.

The Campus Environment and Alcohol
Drinking undermines the academic mission of institutions of higher education (IHEs), with heavy drinking leading to a decline in academic performance. Heavy drinking can have an effect on the campus as a whole, reducing retention rates, increasing expenses due to damage from vandalism, and branding the institution a “party school.” The “party school” image may attract students who choose to be in high-risk settings, increasing the likelihood of alcohol-related incidents on campus.

Alcohol on Campus and the Surrounding Community
Communities neighboring campuses also experience the effects of high-risk drinking at local colleges and universities. For instance, those living within one mile of a campus are much more likely to report alcohol-related noise and disturbances such as vandalism, public drunkenness, and vomit and urination on their property by students. To the extent that communities are negatively affected by student drinking, their support and participation in prevention efforts to address the problem should be encouraged.


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