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High-Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need To Learn

The College Scene

Today, there is much heterogeneity in college experiences; only about 13 percent of all undergraduate students live on campus, and 35 percent are enrolled part-time. Some first-year students who live on campus may be at particular risk for alcohol misuse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. Because many students initiate heavy drinking during these early days of college, the potential exists for excessive alcohol consumption to interfere with successful adaptation to campus life. Unfortunately, many alcohol prevention programs do not target this early, critical, high-risk situation.

College organizational factors are also related to student drinking. For example, historically Black colleges and women’s colleges tend to have lower rates of alcohol use, while colleges with a Greek system and colleges that place a heavy emphasis on athletics tend to have higher rates of alcohol use. Commuter colleges and 2-year institutions tend to have lower alcohol consumption rates than noncommuter schools and 4-year institutions. In terms of size, students at smaller colleges tend to drink more than students at larger schools.

U.S. laws require that colleges and universities that receive Federal funding develop an alcohol and drug education policy. In addition to laws, ethical and social obligations dictate that college administrators develop an alcohol policy that is consistent with the institution’s own culture, mission, and values. The Panel noted that once drafted and adopted, an institution’s alcohol policy should be respected and consistently enforced; it should be wholly supported by the college president, students, faculty and staff, and the neighboring community, including law enforcement officers.

Factors that may be external to the campus can also affect college student drinking. For example, alcohol pricing and the density of liquor outlets have been shown to influence consumption by college students. Generally, the lower the price and the higher the concentration of bars and retail outlets near campus, the higher the alcohol consumption by college students.


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Historical document
Last reviewed: 9/23/2005

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