According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, American college students engage in problematic drinking behaviors at far higher rates than the general population1. For instance, college students are far more likely to binge drink and drive under the influence compared to non-college individuals in the same age young adult age group. This data largely mirrors our experiences here at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers.
This association with college and alcohol is hardly a surprise to most Americans. The idea of college students, particularly those in Greek societies, being heavy drinkers has not changed much since the film Animal House was released over four decades ago. In fact, this idea is almost as old as the American college experience as we know it, if not older.
Contrary to how pop culture portrays college-age drinking, however, the situation is hardly the fun and games it’s often made out to be. Adults with alcohol use disorder (AUD) often start drinking in adolescence, a period that is now understood to cover the typical ages of American college students. Binge drinking also results in avoidable accidents and fatalities, not just among young drinkers, but other people in the community as well.2
To help reduce the incidences of problematic drinking behaviors among college students, it’s important to understand why this happens. Below are some of the reasons why college students are particularly at risk of developing AUD3.
1.) Normalization of Alcohol Misuse
Notwithstanding the rise in AUDs in the wake of COVID-19, Americans today drink far less than was the case in previous generations. However, alcohol misuse, particularly binge drinking, is still widely perceived as a rite of passage among American youth. This is more true in the context of universities and colleges, and may even be expected among students in fraternities and sororities. This means binge-drinking students may not even see a problem in their behavior and may not seek help4.
This is all within the wider context of alcohol use being accepted as normal within wider American culture. College culture, including the parts related to drinking, is usually a reflection of wider trends outside of campuses. Given that students and school employees all ultimately belong to the wider American culture, acceptance or rejection of problematic drinking tends to be influenced by societal trends and expectations.
2.) Uneven Enforcement of Drinking Laws
Colleges and universities tend to have an enormous effect on the communities they are in. Local politicians and business owners often stand to gain financially with every influx of students. Unfortunately, there is often an unspoken understanding that colleges and communities (or at least, some vested interests that claim to speak for them) benefit from developing a “party-friendly” reputation.
This reputation doesn’t happen purely by accident. The enforcement of legal drinking age laws can be spotty in communities where colleges are located. While this is partly due to the wider acceptance of alcohol misuse we mentioned earlier, it is also due to this type of activity not being prioritized by law enforcement as the institution and community leaders may want to maintain the “party lifestyle” brand to attract more students and income.
3.) Pressures of Higher Learning
Problematic alcohol use is often a response to both academic and social pressures. This means that even students who are more academically rather than socially inclined are also at risk of developing AUD or other substance use disorders. Substance misuse is often triggered by a desire to numb unpleasant emotions, which are not only commonplace in college, but are also a typical part of the experience of growing up,
4.) The Lack of Parental Supervision
For many young Americans, being away at college is their first time that to experience a higher level of freedom. This is especially true if they do not come from the same community their chosen institution is situated in. This may be their first time being by themselves, among like-minded peers, without any sort of parental supervision.
Adolescents tend to be naturally curious and are often open to new experiences, including breaking some taboos. Therefore, it’s not surprising they may engage in unsafe drinking, given the mixed signals they may be getting about it in college.
5.) Easy Availability of Alcohol
Though there are a good number of well-regarded “dry” colleges and universities, many more are located in counties where the sale of alcohol is legal. And where there are colleges, there’s bound to be local businesses eager to cater to the needs of the students, regardless if those needs are healthy or not. These businesses are also further incentivized by local officials eager to benefit from the income these students bring to the community.
Find Help For AUD
College can be an unforgettable period of learning and discovery. Unfortunately, thanks to several cultural and societal issues, entering college can significantly raise your odds of developing an alcohol use disorder.
If you suspect that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol, they may benefit from entering an alcohol rehab program designed for people their age. Dallas Drug Treatment Centers makes it easy to find AUD treatment programs appropriate for college-age individuals. Call us now to find a program in North Texas that meets your recovery needs.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2021, January). College Drinking.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Behavioral Health Among College Students Information & Resource Kit.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2020, May 25). What are the highest risk periods for drug abuse among youth?