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The Connection Between College Attendance and Binge Drinking

college students graduating

Binge drinking is defined as drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. Drinkers typically reach this level after 4 “standard” drinks for women and 5 “standard” drinks for men in about 2 hours. A standard drink contains 0.06 ounces of pure alcohol, which would equate to a 12-oz beer (5% alcohol content), a 5-oz glass of wine (12% alcohol content), or 1.5-oz of 80 proof hard liquor.

BAC levels of 0.08 and higher make it illegal for those over 21 to drive. For those under 21, anything over 0.00 BAC make driving illegal in most states.

Binge drinking is a widespread concern on college campuses. According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Study, 32% of college students reported binge drinking. The study also revealed during the two weeks prior to the survey about 12% of college students reported they had consumed at least 10 or more drinks in a row, and 4% reported consuming 15 or more drinks in a row.

Binge drinking is dangerous

The College Fact Sheet, published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, states, “According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe.” The NIH fact sheet includes alarming statistics about the deadly ramifications of college drinking, citing various research and surveys finding that annually:

  • About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
  • About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Binge drinking may also result in alcohol poisoning, which can be life-threatening. Alcohol poisoning occurs when so much alcohol is consumed in a short time that BAC levels rise to poisonous levels. The Mayo Clinic lists signs of alcohol poisoning as confusion, vomiting, seizures, extremely slow or irregular breathing, blue-tinged skin, low body temperature and unconsciousness. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency – if suspected, immediately call 911.

Binge drinking on college campuses

Despite the findings that 1,825 college students die each year as a result of binge drinking, many colleges and universities continue to resist instituting stricter laws against alcohol on campus. Campuses that do attempt to limit drinking may face a backlash from students, alumni, boosters and local businesses. Beth Mcmurtrie, writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, reported in 2014, “After Syracuse University, named the nation’s No.1 party school by The Princeton Review, tried to limit a large outdoor gathering, outraged students labeled the campus a police state.”

Even though college student free time often revolves around alcohol-centered activities like parties, tail-gating before sporting events, drinking games, and bar-hopping, many students admit that stronger enforcement of drinking laws could influence their behavior. To date, most schools have seen inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws on and around campuses. Mcmurtrie writes, “Today, fewer than half of colleges consistently enforce their alcohol policies at tailgates, in dormitories and at fraternity and sorority houses.”

Studies show that higher rates of binge drinking occur among fraternities and sororities, and that fraternity members especially tend to have more alcohol-related problems that student non-members.

Social media also plays a strong role in influencing binge drinking and out of control behavior. One social media presence, “I’m Shmacked”, visits college campuses to promote wild drinking parties, then posts videos of the excessive behavior on various social media platforms. Some college students see it as a competition as to which college can “out party” the other.

Local bars encourage college party culture

Hitting the local bars with a fake ID is a common student activity, made especially enticing by bar-sponsored college party nights, drink discounts, drinking games, and little oversight. Students playing games like “quarters” or “beer pong”, where the goal is to bounce a quarter or ping-pong ball into a cup of beer, may not even realize the amount of alcohol they’re drinking. There are new drinking games constantly surfacing on social media, enticing players to drink too much, too fast.

University resources for sobriety

Fortunately, more colleges and organizations are recognizing they must be increasingly proactive in dealing with underage, heavy, and binge drinking on campus.

One group of researchers from Johns Hopkins asked a panel of 12 alcohol policy experts and university officials to determine the most effective campus alcohol policies. Experts rated the most effective policies as:

  • Banning alcohol at student recruitment events
  • Prohibiting alcohol delivery to campus
  • Prohibiting drinking games
  • Mandatory ID checks at all campus events with alcohol

Resources must also include help for students struggling with alcohol problems. The Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) spearheads Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRP), providing education, resources, and community connections to assist in student recovery. CRPs at college campuses nationwide are based on education and social support systems, rather than clinical treatment programs.

Recovery campuses

Many college campuses have now committed to supporting students in recovery from substance abuse. In 2008 Kennesaw State University (KSU) became one of the first “recovery campuses” as they established The Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR). The CYAAR includes the support of the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC), providing resources “for students struggling with and recovering from addiction to experience college life in a healthy, enjoyable way while maintaining sobriety and to provide education and intervention services.”

In 2016, the PBS News Hour reported there were about 150 colleges and universities in 49 states offering recovery programs, providing students with counseling, community, and activities on campus. By contrast, in 2012 there were only about 35 similar programs. As part of the recovery programs, students may elect to live in a “Sober Dorm,” which offers “substance-free” housing and activities, geared to students in recovery from alcohol, opioid or other substance addiction. Many other colleges also offer or are planning to offer “substance-free housing” as well as sober activities including retreats, health and wellness programs, and educational courses on recovery.

As more schools commit to a campus culture that supports students in recovery, educates students on substance abuse, and enforces alcohol policies, the more tragic statistics will hopefully begin to decline.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.

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