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Trends and Impacts of Alcohol in Colleges

Samantha Rengstorf

Northern Illinois University



Nationwide college enrollment numbers have been steadily increasing for many

years, causing an all time high number of students pursuing higher education. Students

all across the country are attending college with the knowledge that earning a degree is

becoming more and more pertinent to securing a career in our day and age. These

heightened enrollment numbers causes observable and distinct patterns within higher

education institutions. Each fall more and more students are migrating to campuses

intending to learn, get involved, and socialize while pursuing their degree.

Alcohol being deeply rooted in our culture, it is understandable that it has begun

filtering into many other facets within our society. It is an unfortunate but true fact that

consuming high amounts of alcohol has become part of the socialization process on

college campuses across the country. Mirroring enrollment rates, drinking rates are

also steadily increasing nationwide, becoming a part of many campus cultures and

affecting the students, institutions, and communities which surround said campuses.

From students prioritizing partying, to colleges having high rates of conduct or alcohol

related incidents, to community complaints and vandalism; alcohol consumption causes

a ripple effect throughout the college environments. Colleges have had alcohol

immersed in their campus cultures which has proven to be unhealthy and interruptive to

everyone involved. College administrators must recognize the trends associated with

consumption and attempt to combat them in order to lower the disruption being caused.

There is much to report and discuss regarding this topic which can be seen in the

news, observed through research, and heard about through personal experiences. This

literature review will discuss; the trends among students’ consumption rates, the

repercussions of continued over consumption in college settings, and the institutional

practices being implementing to curb unhealthy drinking habits.

Literature Review


Alcohol, reportedly a long time concern on college campuses, is frequently used

and misused nationwide. As the rates of alcohol consumption within college

communities’ increase even more so over the years, so does the prevalence of

literature published focusing on the trend. Alcohol consumption, now widely hailed a

college norm, is being studied and researched more as it proves to be disruptive to

campus cultures. Research by Presley, Meilman, and Leichliter (2002), touches on

peer pressure within campus environments as a cause of increased alcohol

consumption. Students alcohol consumption tends to mirror a said student’s peer group

which could be explained by research which suggests that people act in accordance

with those around them in hopes of gaining approval (Festinger, 1954, as cited in

Perkins, 1996, p. 164). Students often report that it is friends who influence them to

drink and when asked why they and friends choose to drink state that it is what they do

for fun (Levine and Dean, 2012, p. 60).

Seeing as there is little to no disruption to the trend, the cycle has continued year

to year with students coming to campus and taking part in the norm they see around

them. Alcohol being recognized on campuses as a stress reliever, a good time, and a

thing to do, students see it as a part of the college experience. Levine (2011) discusses

society associating alcohol and college life:

--identify commonly held beliefs that are prevalent on a campus that suggests
alcohol misuse is a normative part of the college experience. These beliefs may

be communicated by a wide variety of sources on campus and in the wider

community. (p. 175)
The lack of combative measures towards the common perception that alcohol is just

another college experience causes trouble. It is due to this never-ending cycle of

students treating alcohol as a social norm on campus that the rates of overconsumption

continue to grow.

Campus cultures have transformed quite drastically since their establishment,

alcohol consumption always playing a role, but excessive consumption becoming more

prevalent. “What dominates our social scene is alcohol and alcohol abuse, kids drinking

to get shit-faced and even sort of more as a social lubricant – the glorification of alcohol

and partying –” (Levine & Dean, 2012, 58). Levine and Dean (2012) continue to state

that although the trend of alcohol consumption in college has always been present there

was a shift from beer to hard liquor and an increase in the rate at which the alcohol is

drank. Whether students come to college having never consumed alcohol, or have

established a habit, the college setting has been reported to increase their rate of

consumption. The regular use of alcohol persists as college students continue to

influence one another. Byrd (2016), defines this trend through the lens of differential

association, peer influence affecting ones’ decisions, specifically alcohol consumption.

For many students, college acts as a place that consists of little supervision, much free

time, and lots of access to new things and people. Many students leaving home for the

first time, entering a setting where excessive alcohol use is a common practice, and

attempting to integrate with peers who abide by social norms; pieces within a college

setting influences drinking behaviors.


Over consumption and the consequences that occur in response are not isolated

to one area of campus but rather widespread within the communities. Greek life,

athletics, residence halls, every entity within the institution is able to either experience or

witness the trends and effects associated with high consumption rates. Danielson,

Taylor, & Hartford (2001) explores the relationship between Greek life and alcohol and

discusses how often times the environment consists of higher levels of drinking. Each

school year Greek organizations make headlines when pledges are forced to over

consume alcohol, 24 alcohol-related deaths since 2005 (para. 15), an obvious and

unfortunate indication of excessive drinking trends. Athletics also see high rates of

alcohol consumption among their student population. Research by Turrisi, Mastroleo,

Mallett, Larimer, & Kilmer (2007) stated that not only drinking in general was happening

more frequently, but also heavier drinking was more common among student-athletes

(as cited in Lewis, Wyrick, Milroy, Hebard, & Lamberson, 2016, p. 1). Collegiate sports

require a level of dedication from students in addition to that they already give to their

academics, which can cause these student-athletes to be stressed. Even when teams

institute dry seasons; athletes find themselves engaging in the binge drinking to relieve

stress and to socialize trends on campuses. According to Simmons-Morton et al.

(2016), there is also a palpable correlation between students living in residence halls

and drinking. Alcohol dependence rates are being reported the highest by college

students who resided within the residence halls (Dawson et al. 2004, 2005a). With

most campus living options consisting of younger students, underage drinking is

apparent within the residence halls, causing spikes in conduct and citation numbers.

The significance of alcohol in college runs into each aspect of the community and

continues to affect all aspects of a higher education institution.

More and more students find themselves partaking in this method of socialization

which causes increased patterns of both underage and abusive consumption. Not only

is there an increase in the number of students who consume alcohol, the number of

drinks they consume is rising as well. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health

(2012) was able to illustrate the increase through their research on full time college

students finding that 60.8% were drinkers, almost 40% were binge drinkers, and 13.6%

could be classified as heavy drinkers (as cited in Hudspeth & Matthews, 2013, p. 188 ).

Levine and Dean (2012) published that campus administrators acknowledge these

issues and argue that binge drinking and alcohol abuse are at the forefront for mental

health issues on campus. “90 percent of the alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is

consumed during binges” (Naimi, Brewer, Mokdad, Denny, Serdula, & Marks, 2003, as

cited in Riley-Cook, 2012, p.8), a common pattern observed within college setting, binge

drinking, involves students consuming five drinks or more for men and four drinks or

more for women. Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport, and Castillo (1995) reported on the

prevalence of this habit publishing that one-fifth of undergraduates admitted to binge

drinking three or more times in a 2-week period. The commonality of this act introduces

a perception of normalcy within the campus culture and, in turn, the heightened

prospect of danger for students’.

Another common trend being seen among collegiate campuses is students

incorporating alcohol usage into everyday activities or events. From ‘Wine Wednesday’

to ‘Thirsty Thursday’ students are finding every excuse they can to drink. Students

within some campuses are deeming certain holidays as days to drink through the day

and night such as Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, and Black Wednesday (or the night

before Thanksgiving). Tailgating at football games, celebrating finals by blacking out,

keg stands, case races, and bar crawls have become imbedded in college towns.

These trends are not being seen just in certain areas or campuses but rather

widespread and a common attitude held by college students towards alcohol.

Repeated binge drinking can lead to a number of serious dangers for those who

partake in the act and can pose a risk for long term health issues and dependency. The

socialization of alcohol usage within collegiate settings leads to the disruption of

campus cultures and ultimately negative side-effects for students, administrators, and



As alcohol consumption and overconsumption has become more popular in

college settings the negative outcomes that correlate with the behavior have become

more common as well. There are many negative effects associated with alcohol

consumption that students experience which continue to disrupt college campuses and

present staggering statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

published about the consequences of abusive college drinking and the yearly statistics;

1,825 students die, 599,000 students are injured, 696,000 experience assault, 97,000

students are victims of sexual assault or date rape, just a few of the many health and

safety risks students face when over consuming. Many of these more serious

consequences can proved to be life altering which students do not realize while

consuming because of the alcohols affect.


Alcohol consumption can prove to be the end of students’ lives when they

consume with no regards, “Alcohol abuse is both one of the most important contributors

to preventable morbidity and mortality in contemporary America” (Wechsler et al., 1995,

p. 921). Wechsler et al. continues to state that binge drinking is the leading source of

preventable death among college students. The deaths of college students that are

associated with alcohol consumption are result of over consumption or lack of judgment

decisions that lead to a negative outcome. As death continues to be an outcome of

college drinking it prevails as an important factor in recognizing the need to combat the

deadly trend.

Nationally, the rates of sexual assaults on college campuses are still staggering

even though many go undocumented. Sexual assaults on college campuses are more

often than not alcohol-related. This serious and commonly occurring issue proves to be

one of the many consequences of college drinking that needs to be addressed. Widely

documented on, at least 50% of sexual assaults involving college students are

associated with alcohol usage (Abbey, 2015, p. 3). Although in many cases, the

amount of alcohol drank is not documented, a concerning issue is the presence of

alcohol in these situations. Abbey (2015) ultimately finds that alcohol did in-fact often

increase the chances of a sexual assault occurring. As alcohol proves to lower

inhibitions and reduce better judgment, many colleges find that when sexual assaults

occur, students have often reportedly been drinking.

Students who are caught up in the partying culture of college can often times find

themselves making poor decisions. These poor choices can cause ripple effects in

other aspects of their life and affect their wellbeing prohibiting them from excelling in the

college atmosphere. “—problem drinkers have poor impulse control, manifest deviant

behavior, value academic success less and strive for independence”(Canterbury, 1990,

p. 8), additionally, students can find themselves in trouble academically, legally, and

socially when they prioritize alcohol. Commonly, students report that a consequence of

their drinking habits is academic issues. Approximately twenty-five percent of college

students admit to skipping class and having lower grades in result of their alcohol

consumption (NIHAA, 2015, p. 2). According to Hingson et al. (2009), 2 of the 8 million

college students in the U.S drove under the influence in the previous year. Drinking

under the influence proves to be a large risk for all involved and can very easily lead to

contact with police or other authoritative entities.

Recognizing the trends and their repercussions is the first step in recognizing the

issue that is plaguing higher education institutions across the nation. College campuses

are continuing to consist of students using alcohol as a tool to socialize with one

another, regardless of the negative outcomes it proves to have. Considering the

undesirable statistics that are partnered with the apparent trend of over consumption

within collegiate settings, it is important that higher education institutions begin to

implement combating strategies.

Institutional Practices

As higher education institutions and administrators within them recognize the

growing and dangerous trends associated with students and alcohol; they have begun

to research and implement best practices to combat them. Although alcohol has always

been present within collegiate settings the rate and amount of consumptions has been

steadily growing and has surpassed the level of acceptable. The statistics correlated

with the dangers of socializing alcohol on campuses, including but not limited to, death,

assault, academic misconduct, and injuries, pushes administrators to acknowledge the

issue and address it.

Barber (2011) discusses three theoretical categories, restriction, education, and

activism that act as approaches to curbing alcohol abuse (p. 167). Some institutions

are choosing to address the prevalent issues through the lens of restriction. A number

of colleges either offering alcohol free residences halls, restricting residence halls to

having no alcohol, or banning alcohol on campus all together in order to combat the

issues paired with consumption. This type of prevention measure although restricts

alcohol usage may also cause students to be ignorant to their limitations once they are

exposed to alcohol. Barber (2011) continues to describe education being as a

preventative measure discussing intervention programming geared towards informing

students about alcohol within college cultures. Educating students on the effects of

alcohol and the dangers of over consumption may not stop alcohol usage but work

towards curbing the commonality of binge drinking. Lastly, Barber (2011) argues that

activism is an approach being utilized to curbing alcohol use, discussing how students

and administrators are working towards changing things such as the legal drinking age

and spreading awareness about the issues. Although lowering the drinking age may

not be the solution, the constant discussion of alcohol consumption on collegiate

campuses will spread awareness.

According to Degges-White & Borzumato-Gainey (2014), substance abuse is

prevalent among college students, which explains why most colleges across the nation

are striving to offer services to students that relate to alcohol usage and over-usage.

These services span from preventative alcohol and drug programming, to alcohol and

drug dependency testing, to counseling that addresses alcohol and drug dependency.

Whether these services are offered through housing, the health center, or the

counseling center each entity is in some way attempting to address the issue that has

plagued campus cultures. Different entities within campuses are teamed together and

ready to refer students when deemed necessary. An example of this would be when

student conduct chooses to sanction a student to alcohol and drug dependency

counseling. Another example would be when campus officers forgo a citation and

instead referring students to classes that are aimed teaching the dangers of alcohol.

Overall, campus offices are interested in what is best for the students and working to

provide them with resources that help with alcohol related issues.

Universities also institute alcohol policies that address their students’

consumption. These policies hopefully either deter students from consuming or cause

them to make smarter decisions and be more discreet when consuming. Policies

instituted also can offer them the opportunity to learn if they are ever found responsible

for not following the guidelines set forth by the institution. Consuming alcohol underage

in the residence halls for example would have a policy set in place deeming it

unacceptable. If students are found in the residence halls consuming alcohol underage

they may be found responsible and put on university probation or asked to complete an

online alcohol educational course. Additionally, some college residence halls may ban

using empty alcohol bottles as decorations in order to negate the perception that alcohol

needs to be involved in college life. Administrators continue to observe the trends


among students and write policies in order to guide students towards the right



Although institutions have begun to address the issues related to alcohol

consumption on campuses, the problem is still apparent. Brennan et al. (1986) argued

that higher education institutions still have a long way to go when learning about their

campus cultures and how they influence the use and abuse of alcohol (as cited in

Presley et al, 2002, p. 82). As these higher education institutions continue to learn

about the abuse of alcohol within the collegiate system they can begin to rectify the

practices already implemented which are not producing the outcomes wanted related to


Acknowledge and Address

A big piece in working towards fixing the alcohol related issues within higher

education institutions is to first acknowledge them as the growing and widespread

issues they are. Levine (2011) suggests a series of strategies that could be utilized

while working towards curbing alcohol usage in college settings. Looking at the issue

from an environmental standpoint, Levine (2011) discusses how campus, community,

and state or public policy must acknowledge and address the problem together. All

three of these entities are continuing to be affected by the alcohol trends in higher

education institutions and the recommendation that they face the issue together will

cause a greater chance of change. When administrators study the dangerous and

disruptive trends on campus they can witness the ripple effect it is having on the

students, community, and beyond. Levine (2011) continues to recommend that


institutions become invested in revising these alcohol trends and should examine the

unstructured free time held by students. Many studies conclude that a factor in students

increased drinking is that they have a lot of free time with little supervision. After

colleges recognize this as a leading factor to alcohol abuse a recommendation would be

to strive to offer programming and involvement opportunities to students in order to fill

their time. Finally, Levine (2011) suggests that early intervention will work in stopping

the issue. Those involved in students’ lives should recognize and acknowledge the

warning signs associated with binge drinking and in turn address them. Early

intervention could look like anything from a simple conversation to substance abuse

counseling. It is important when seeing unhealthy and dangerous habits among

students relating to alcohol that those in their life acknowledge it and address it as soon

as it is noticed.


A big piece in continuing to change the trends being seen on college campuses

is ultimately education. Students are often times not educated properly when it comes

to alcohol consumption which translates to danger and disruption in college

communities. Students’ not recognizing their limits in regards to alcohol is due to a

combination of a lack of knowledge about consumption and the lack of awareness on

the dangers of the popular binge drinking trend. There are several recommendations

which could be implemented in order to combat the negative statistics. During their

orientation programs and transition to college authority figures and mentors should

address alcohol usage with students. When talking about the trends on campus it is

important to be open about alcohol and stress to students that if they choose to

consume they need to recognize the dangers associated with it. Undoubtedly students

will arrive on campuses and more than likely be exposed to alcohol which is why those

involved in their lives should takes the steps to educate them before it is too late.

Universities should continue to practice a holistic approach to student conduct and

instead of making sanctions solely punitive should focus on the learning aspect. Within

the conduct process students should have the opportunity to reflect on the missteps that

lead them into the process and learn for the future. Universities should also team up

with university or city police and discuss ways to combat disruptive drinking. If the

police are not already practicing referral over citation they should discuss the possibility

of doing so in order to allow students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Parents, guardians, and mentors in addition to the university staff should also take an

active role in educating students about alcohol. Although alcohol may continue to be

present across the nation on college campuses those involved in students lives’ should

strive to educate about proper alcohol usage and the dangers of over-usage.

Changing the Norm

Another recommendation for future combating and curbing of alcohol

consumption would be to work towards changing the common assumption that alcohol

is a part of college culture. Many of the researchers made the point that across the

nation people associate college with alcohol or partying. This proves to be an issue as

we continue to see incoming students making the same association and in turn

spending their free time at college partying. This recommendation may be a big

undertaking and will more than likely take many years to implement. However, it was

discussed in many articles that people just view college as a time to go wild, which is

why we see as deadly and dangerous of trends as we are currently seeing nationwide.

Taking preventative measures during orientations and campus tours to discuss how the

college is harsh on alcohol consumption and over-consumption and stress the dangers

and consequences of binge drinking will prove to be effective in combating the

association. If administrators and authority figures in young adults lives address the

issues with viewing alcohol as a social norm and apart of the college experience then

our society may begin to see a change in the trend.


As alcohol consumption rates in the United States continues to rise, it is

important to recognize the impact it makes within other facets of society like higher

education institutions. Not only alcohol consumption but more so over-consumption has

become a social norm among college students which has lead to a noticeable disruption

not only within colleges but also in our society as a whole. The patterns and impacts

caused by student alcohol consumption can be seen in many facets of society and

causes ripple effects far beyond the walls of college. With an all time high of 20.5

million students within American colleges at the start of the fall 2016 semester the

issues associated with students and alcohol are immense and important.

When looking at the statistics that are happening in response to the spike in

college drinking society as a whole can recognize the issues, which is why we are

seeing practices being implemented. From dry campuses, to alcohol related

programming, to alcohol dependency referrals for students; higher education institutions

are striving to combat the trends seen nationwide. There is room for improvement as

an overwhelming percentage of the population continues to associate college with


alcohol and the presence of binge drinking is becoming more apparent. As student

affairs professionals work within the field they are focusing on the best interest of the

students. Offices should collaborate both cross campus and with outside resources to

continue to focus on keeping students safe and curbing alcohol trends. As long as

higher education institutions continue to work towards combating the disruptive culture

and continue to implement new and impactful practices they will hopefully begin to see

declines in the dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.

This literature review focused on the socialization of alcohol on American

collegiate campuses. Throughout this literature review the trends related to alcohol

consumption were discussed along with the ramifications that happen in response to the

popular act of binge drinking. Mirroring the heavy presence of alcohol in America

alcohol will continue to be a part of college life, which is why higher education

institutions must stress the importance of responsible consumption and the dangers of

binge drinking in order to reduce the upsetting statistics.



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