Alcohol Abuse Prevention Strategies for College Students

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College is typically viewed as the pathway to gaining the skills and knowledge needed to embark on a successful career. However, it can also be a pathway to the casual acceptance of dangerous levels of alcohol consumption. Drinking is as much of the college experience as studying, sleep deprivation, and junk food.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 58% of college students admit to drinking alcohol, while 12.5% engage in heavy alcohol use, and 37.9% report binge drinking episodes.


An alcoholic drink typically has 14 grams of pure alcohol, as defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Examples include 12 ounces of beer containing 5% alcohol, 5 ounces of beer containing 12% alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits containing 40% alcohol.

Binge drinking is typically defined as men students consuming five drinks in the course of 2 hours, or women students consuming four drinks in the same time frame.

The Problem

While college drinking is often viewed as a fun and harmless activity, alcohol consumption among college students is associated with a variety of issues. According to the NIH:

  • Over 1,800 college students die each year from alcohol-related incidents, such as vehicles crashes.
  • Almost 700,000 college students are assaulted each year by someone who has been drinking.
  • Roughly 79,000 college students report being raped or sexually assaulted (when either one or both parties have been drinking).

At least 20% of college students develop an Alcohol Use Disorder, which means that alcohol consumption is impulsive and uncontrollable. These students actually crave alcohol, need to increase consumption levels to obtain the desired results, experience withdrawal symptoms, and prefer drinking to spending time with friends or engaged in other activities

A full quarter (25%) of students admit that alcoholic consumption causes problems in the classroom, including such behaviors as skipping classes, failing to complete homework assignments, and performing poorly on tests.

Too much alcohol can also result in fibrosis or cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, a weakened immune system, and various types of cancers.

Prevention Strategies

While the natural response is to simply discourage college students from drinking, Peter Canavan, a public safety officer at Wilkes University, and the author of The Ultimate Guide to College Safety: How To Protect Yourself From Online and Offline Threats to Your Personal Safety At College & Around Campus, tells ThoughtCo that providing fact-based information on the dangers of drinking to excess is a better approach.

“Education should be the first step to a successful strategy designed to eliminate or limit drinking,” Canavan says. “Responsible drinking and knowing when you have had too much to drink are important factors to staying safe.”

Besides the laundry list of negative effects listed above in this article, Canavan says it’s possible for students to become victims of alcohol poisoning the very first time they drink. Aside from heart-rate and breathing changes, quickly consuming a large amount of alcohol could lead to a comatose state or even death.

“Any time an individual consumes alcohol for the first time, the effects are unknown, but alcohol does cause memory and learning issues, forgetfulness, and bad judgment.” In addition, Canavan says alcohol dulls the senses, which can be catastrophic in an emergency situation. 

Canavan provides the following tips to help students stay safe:

  • Regulate your alcohol consumption to reduce the chances of experiencing dangerous outcomes; know your limit.
  • Never leave your drink unattended; it may be compromised with a date rape drug while it is out of your sight.
  • College is a huge investment in your future; don't jeopardize it by making poor decisions as a result of drinking. A drunk driving accident can harm or kill you or your passengers, so don't drink and drive. If you are convicted of a DUI, you may lose your license and be unable to get to college or work. Long-term, a DUI on your driving record could prevent you from getting a good job after graduation since many employers look at that when reviewing job applications.

Colleges and communities can also play a role in preventing underage and excessive alcohol consumption by educating students. Additional strategies include reducing access to alcohol through such ways as checking a student’s identification, ensuring that inebriated students aren’t served additional drinks, and limiting the number of places that sell alcoholic drinks.