Binge Drinking Among College Students

Many studies have shown that the age of onset of heavy drinking has been strongly linked to the formation of harmful drinking habits later in life (Berkowitz, 1990; Glassman, 2010). The increased levels of binge drinking and alcohol abuse reported among university students within one year of entering college may possibly point to increases in alcohol-related public health issues in the future (Kim, Chan, Chow, Fung, Cheuk, & Griffiths, 2009). Research and theory have provided pertinent information about binge drinking and how prevalent the issue is among college students. Binge drinking among college students has been identified as the number one threat to campus life (Wheeler, 2009). College students today are drinking more frequently and in greater amounts than ever before (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, 2007). Dangerous amounts of alcohol consumption are simply not safe, and will most likely produce negative outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how binge drinking is defined and measured. It will also review several studies on binge drinking and how it correlates with college students. Additionally, original research was conducted to examine the binge drinking trends of Texas State University Students.
Literature Review
Operationalizing “Binge Drinking”

Conventionally, the criteria for assessing high-risk drinking includes: five or more drinks for males and four or more drinks for women during one sitting, event, or occasion within the previous two weeks (Glassman, 2010). Although, some research simply states five or more drinks in one sitting, which does not include the gender variable. Also, asking respondents to recall specific time frames from a night of heavy drinking may also compromise the validity of research data. Further, the five or more/four or more drinking criterion does not adequately assess the intoxication levels or more extreme levels of alcohol consumption (Glassman, 2010). Yet, others in the field recognize that men metabolize alcohol more efficiently than women and distinctions should be accounted for when measuring this behavior. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) National Advisory Council attempted to clarify the issue by defining a binge as:
a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male) or 4 or more drinks (female) in about 2 hours” (National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse, 2004, p. 357).
Prevalence of Binge Drinking
Data from multiple surveys indicate that the majority of college students consume alcohol (Presley, Meilman, & Lyerla, 1994). College students drink more frequently and in greater numbers than their peers who do not attend college (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1997). Defined as five consecutive drinks for men and four consecutive drinks for women within a two-week period, binge drinking occurs among 44% of college students, which has remained constant over time (Glassman, 2010). On average, college students consume 9.6 drinks per week. White, Kraus & Swatzwelder (2006) conducted surveys at a moderate-sized state university in the northeast United States via flyers, announcements, and a web site maintained by the Psychology Department. Participants completed the anonymous surveys in exchange for credit toward completion of a research-participation requirement for introductory psychology courses. The results showed that 41% of males and 34% of females consume alcohol at or above the binge drink threshold. Many different environmental and social factors can influence a college students’ behavior. For example, the presence of a Greek system, student involvement in athletics, students’ residence (dorm or apartment), size of the university, alcohol outlet density and alcohol prices are all variables that can influence decisions of a student (Wheeler, 2009).
Research indicates that when college students drink at these levels, their risk for alcohol related consequences increases significantly and suggest that the term “binge” is justified based on scientific evidence (Glassman, 2010). According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Study, which was conducted on 89% of the first year entrants of college, 53% of all alcohol-related injuries occurred from people who consumed one to five drinks, whereas 21% occurred from those who consumed eight or more drinks. This data was gathered from anonymous questionnaires that were sent to all students prior to the fall semester registration. Also, there is almost universal agreement among college administration and health professionals that alcohol abuse is the most widespread recreational drug used by college students, and that binge drinking is a major health problem (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1995). Faced with this issue, and no apparent immediate solution, in the summer of 2008, 200 college presidents proposed that lawmakers consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 years. Their efforts were dubbed the Amethyst Initiative, an idea based on the assumption that the current laws and prohibitions against drinking may actually be encouraging students to binge drink (Deas & Clark, 2009).
Most literature gives little evidence that lowering the drinking age will solve the binge drinking problem. However, there is considerable evidence that this action may actually intensify the issue. For example, high school students 18 years old and younger seem to be keeping pace with college peers in terms of alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2004), 62% of tenth graders and 72% of twelfth graders have used alcohol and 41% of tenth graders and 55% of twelfth graders have been drunk. Also, 65% of college students who drink alcohol began drinking in high school and only 13% of college students began drinking after entering college. This data was collected from a study that was conducted in two stages. The first stage selected 148 institutions, half two-year and half four-year, with probability proportional to undergraduate enrollment. The second stage randomly sampled undergraduates in the 136 institutions that chose to participate, targeting 72 students from each two-year school and 56 from each four-year school. The questionnaire was mailed to 7,442 students for self-administration and completed by 4,814 (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2007). Finally, lowering the drinking age seems to negate research on neurobiological development. The data suggests that cognitive functions, such as impulse control and decision making, are still developing into early adulthood (Wheeler, 2009). During this period of critical development major regions of the young adult’s brain is at risk due to the neurotoxin effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Obviously, a better alternative to lowering the drinking age is to increase research efforts designed to give a better understanding of why so many students engage in such self-destructing behavior.
In seeking some answers to some of these questions, researchers have conducted studies on the motive and expectations underlying excessive drinking in the college population. Some believe that college students just do not see an issue with binge drinking. This may be because students tend to identify hangovers as the most serious consequence of excessive drinking. Others suggest that students drink in order to obtain valued outcomes or as a means of coping with stress (Crundell, 1995). Berkowitz (1990) insists that the satisfaction of social needs and peer influence are the most important factors leading to binge drinking. Research on peer influence has shown that individuals who have friends who drink are more likely to begin drinking, and that individuals who binge drink are likely to have friends who drink (Wheeler, 2009). Duncan, Biosjoly, Kremer, Levy & Eccles (2005) state, “ as long as individuals are free to choose their friends, it is possible that someone’s substance abuse behavior or personal characteristics associated with substance abuse are affecting his or her choice of peer group” (p. 376).
According to Wheeler (2009), young adults are the heaviest drinkers in the United States. College students drink more often and in heavier amounts than people who do not attend college. This seems consistent with Crundall’s (1995) notion that alcohol consumption is a major part of the culture of college life, a so-called rite of passage into adulthood. Drinking alcohol is typically perceived by most students as part of the college experience.
The college culture undoubtedly plays a role in student drinking, but some researchers may have exaggerated its effects. As Wheeler (2009) reports, “While the heaviest drinkers are at greater risk for harm, they are relatively few and generate proportionally small amounts of all drinking harms” (p. 174). This idea is supported by Weschler, Lee, Kuo, Seibring, Nelson & Lee (2002), who used factor analyses and IRT analyses while conducting their studies, found that the top 17% of students in a sample of 353 undergraduate drinkers who drink alcohol heavily and frequently, consume 68% of the alcohol drank by college students.
There also other shortcomings associated with the traditional high-risk drinking measure. Glassman (2010) proposes combing the five/four drinking measure with the frequency of engaging in the behavior (3 or more times in a one week period), a term he describes as “heavy and frequent” (Glassman, 2010). The research indicates that this group is most at risk for experiencing the negative consequences associated with alcohol use. Another area in which specialized research is needed involves event-specific drinking occasions among college students. For example, on a college football game day, drinking alcohol takes place for an extended period of time (usually before, during, and after a game). For these types of events, the term, “Extreme Ritualistic Alcohol Consumption” (ERAC) was created. ERAC, defined as consuming 10 or more drinks in a day by males, and 8 or more drinks for a female, constitutes an event or context-specific drinking pattern in which people drink more than they would under normal circumstances (Deas et al., 2009).
Secondary data was used during the original research of the binge drinking trends of Texas State University students. Information was gathered in Spring of 2009, as part of a Research Methods in Criminal Justice course at Texas State University. Convenience sampling was used, which means that the sample group in the study was comprised of TSU students who were, basically, given the surveys at the convenience of the researcher. The surveyed students were anonymous, meaning there is no possible way to link the answers to any one survey to any specific student. They surveys, which were IRB approved by Texas State University, were self-administered by the students. Overall, the ending sample size was 146 Texas State students, which may limit the data due to the low number. This small sample size may not be completely representative of the Texas State University population. The survey questions vary in type, but the data gathered portrays an accurate depiction of the students’ binge drinking habits. The survey consists of 74 questions total, 11 personal drinking behavior questions, 14 binge drinking questions, 11 questions covering the survey taker’s attitude towards drinking, 9 background questions, 5 demographic questions, and 23 personal attitudes and behaviors. The possible answers varied from simply “Yes or No” to Gottfredson and Hirshi’s Low Self-Control Scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree).
The sample size of this study was 146 Texas State University students. The majority of the sample, 58%, was Caucasian. Another 29% were Hispanic. The remaining 13% were another race. The sample consisted of 45% male participants and 55% female participants. The majority of the sample was 21 years and older (70%). Of these participants, only 26% are Criminal Justice majors. Juniors and Seniors represented most of the sample size (74%) of the sample, as opposed to only 26% Freshman and Sophomores. Surprisingly, only 11% of the sample stated they were a member of a traditional fraternity or sorority, and only 17% indicated they were an athlete at the university.
For the purpose of this paper, fiver questions from the survey were selected, and those results were analyzed. Twenty-four percent of the surveyed students indicated they have attended school while drunk. Additionally, 80% of the participants admitted to binge drinking at a house party at some point. Only 29% of the sample indicated they have engaged in sexual intercourse after binge drinking and later regretted it. Thirty-five percent of the surveyed students have blacked out (become unconscious after consuming a large amount of alcohol) due to binge drinking. Finally, 61% of the sample did not believe the drinking age should be lowered to 18 years.
The questions were also analyzed by the demographic, sex. It was found males were significantly more likely than females to attend class while drunk, binge drink at a house party, have sex with someone after binge drinking and later regret it, and black out after binge drinking (p <.05). More specifically, 37% of males have attended class while drunk, compared to only 13% of females. Ninety-two percent of males have engaged in binge drinking at a house party compared to 70% of the females. Also, 46% of males have engaged in sexual intercourse as a result of binge drinking, and later regretted it compared to only 15% of females. Forty-five percent of males have blacked out as a result of binge drinking, as opposed to females, where only 28% of the sample have blacked out. Males and females, however, did not show significance (p<.05) in regard to opinions on whether the drinking age should be lowered to 18 years of age. Approximately 46% of males believed the drinking age should be lowered compared to 32% of females. Conclusion To summarize, plenty of information about many of the personal, social, cultural and environmental factors related to binge drinking is available in literature. Research explains how binge drinking is defined, which college students are most likely to engage in it, and when and where heavy drinking is most likely to occur. Original research shows that males are significantly more likely to engage in binge drinking compared to females. This is consistent with most past studies. This may be attributed to testosterone or simply maturity. However, more research is simply needed to explain why students who can obtain college degrees are unable or unwilling to avoid participating in such dangerous activities as binge drinking that unquestionably result in undesirable and possibly dangerous outcomes, and why males are more likely to engage in these activities. References Berkowitz, A. D. (1990). Reducing alcohol and other drug use on campus: Effective strategies for prevention programs. The Eta Sigma Gamman, 22(1), 12-14. Beseler, C., Taylor, L., & Leeman, R. (2010). An item-response theory analysis of DSM-IV alcohol-use disorder criteria and "binge" drinking in undergraduates. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 418, 423. Retrieved July 23, 2010, from the Texas State University Alkek Library Database database. Crundall, I.A. (1995). Perceptions of alcohol by student drinkers at university. Drug and Alcohol Review, 13, 363-368 DeSimone, J. (n.d.). Binge drinking and risky sex among college students. The National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved July 23, 2010, from Deas, D., & Clark, A. (2009, April 1). Youth binge drinking: Progress made and remaining challenges. Elsevier. Retrieved July 23, 2010, from Duncan, G. J., Boisjoly, J., Kremer, M., Levy, D.M., & Eccles, J. (2005). Peer effects in drug use and sex among college students. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33(3), 375-385 Glassman, T. (2010). Alcohol measures and terms: A perfect storm for chronic confusion. Journal of American College Health, 58, 399. Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., & Bachman, J.G. (1997). National survey results on drug use from the Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1995. College Students and Young Adults, 2. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Use. Kim, J., Chan, K., Chow, J., Fung, K., Cheuk, K., & Griffiths, S. (2009). University binge drinking patterns and changes in patterns of alcohol consumption among Chincese undergraduates in a Hong Kong university. Journal of American College Health, 58, 265. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. (1995). PH 357. Retrieved 07-25-10. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.govrpublications/aa29.htm National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). A call to action: Changing the culture of drinking at U.S.colleges. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. Retrieved 07-25-10. Norman, P., Bennett, P., & Lewis, H. (1998). Understanding binge drinking among young people: An application of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Health and Education Research 13(2), 163-169. Presley, C. A. Meilman, P. W. & Cashin, J. R. (1996). Alcohol and drugs on american college campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the Campus Environment, 4, 1992-94. Weschsler, H., Lee, Je. E., Kuo, M., Seibring, M., Nelson, T.F., & Lee, H. (2002). Trends in college binge drinking a period of increased prevention efforts: Findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol study surveys: 1993-2001. Journal of American College Health, 50(5), 203-217