Sobering Facts: Underage Drinking on College Campuses

When it comes to alcohol abuse and underage drinking on college campuses, national statistics point to an “extremely widespread” crisis, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a federal government agency.

How prevalent is alcohol abuse on college campuses? About four out of five college students drink alcohol, and of those who drink, 50 percent are binge drinkers, according to federal data.

“It’s a tremendous problem. Alcohol is everywhere, and on many campuses, there’s a culture that encourages binge drinking, hazing and underage drinking,” says Gary Silverman, clinical supervisor at the South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center.

What are the trends?

For parents of college-bound students, ages 18 to 24, the facts are alarming, medical experts say.

  • Alcohol-related death and accidents: Every year, about 1,825 college students die from accidental (unintentional) injuries linked to alcohol, and close to 600,000 students are injured accidentally while under the influence of alcohol, the National Institute reports.
  • Assaults: Nearly 700,000 of college students (late teens through early 20s) are assaulted each year by a peer who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse:  Close to 100,000 students are victims each year of date rape or sexual assault, according to federal data.
  • “About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall,” according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    What factors contribute to the problem?

    Advertisements for alcohol are everywhere, Mr. Silverman says, pointing to slick marketing campaigns featuring hip parties attended by attractive, but youthful actors and models. What’s more, the production and marketing of exotic and fruit-flavored beers seem to deliberately target young drinkers — especially women — who may not like the natural taste of beer.

    “Beer and alcohol companies deny it, but they’re really marketing to young people,” Mr. Silverman says.

    Keg parties and the drinking activities promoted by campus groups, including fraternities and sororities, also set the stage for dangerous attitudes toward drinking, according to local and national experts.

    And finally, parents can also inadvertently open the door to alcohol abuse by:

  • Serving alcohol, such as wine with dinner, to high school and college-age students.
  • Sending mixed messages that drugs are forbidden, but alcohol use is acceptable.
  • Providing easy access to beer and alcohol by failing to lock liquor cabinets, bars and wine cellars, Mr. Silverman says.
  • “Too many kids are learning to drink at home,” he says.

    Sobering Realities: Prevention

    A strong dose of education can “help reduce the frequency and quantity of college drinking,” according to the National Institutes of Health, which recommends targeting: students (individuals and groups), campus organizations and the surrounding communities in college towns.

    “Family education and support are also major factors in prevention of underage drinking,” Mr. Silverman says. “It’s important to let your child know that it’s not ok to drink.”

    Federal authorities agree. “Research shows that students who choose not to drink often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them,” according to a statement from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


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