College Binge Drinking Issues

Nearly 38 percent of college administrators say the major barrier to more effective prevention is the public perception that substance abuse by college students is a normal rite of passage.

“College presidents are reluctant to take on issues they feel they cannot change and this growing public health crisis reflects today’s society where students are socialized to consider substance abuse a harmless rite of passage and to medicate every ill,” said Reverend Edward A. Malloy, CSC, Chair, The CASA Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities II and President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame.

“To change this culture, college and university presidents need help from parents, alumni, students, Greek and athletic organizations, state and federal governments,” he said. “Substance abuse on college campuses is not just an issue of public health; it is one of self-interest. Failure to act in the face of foreseeable harm places schools at risk for damaging their academic reputations and liability lawsuits in the millions of dollars.”

Other key findings:

• Rates of daily smoking among college students dropped from 15 percent in 1993 to 12 percent in 2005 and of daily heavy smoking (half a pack or more a day) from nine percent in 1993 to seven percent in 2005. More than 1.8 million full-time college students are current smokers.

• Fraternity and sorority members are likelier than non-members to drink (88 vs. 67 percent), binge drink (64 vs. 37 percent), drink and drive (33 vs. 21 percent), use marijuana (21 vs. 16 percent) or cocaine (3 vs. 1.5 percent), smoke (26 vs. 21 percent).

• 37 percent of college students fear social stigma attached to substance abuse, which keeps them from seeking help. Only 6 percent of students who meet medical criteria for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence seek help.

• 78 percent of college students who use illicit drugs have sexual intercourse compared to 44 percent of those who never use drugs.

“College presidents, deans and trustees have facilitated a college culture of alcohol and drug abuse that is linked to poor student academic performance, depression, anxiety, suicide, property damage, vandalism, fights and a host of medical problems,” noted Califano.

“By failing to become part of the solution, these Pontius Pilate presidents and parents, deans, trustees and alumni have become part of the problem. Their acceptance of a status quo of rampant alcohol and other drug abuse puts the best and the brightest-and the nation’s future-in harm’s way.”

More than a decade ago, CASA convened its landmark Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities to understand better the issues surrounding substance abuse at our nation’s colleges and universities. The Commission issued two reports: “The Smoke-Free Campus: A Report by the Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities” (1993) and “Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America’s Campuses” (1994) which drew attention to the widespread problems of student smoking and drinking, and highlighted the growing problem of dangerous drinking among women.

In 2002, CASA reconvened and expanded the Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities II, to examine what progress, if any, had been made in the intervening years.

CASA is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society.

CASA has issued 63 reports and white papers, published one book, conducted demonstration projects focused on children, families and schools at 161 sites in 67 cities and counties in 29 states plus Washington, DC and a Native American tribal reservation, and has been evaluating the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment in a variety of programs and drug courts. CASA is the creator of the nationwide initiative Family Day A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Childrentm - the fourth Monday in September the 24th in 2007 - that promotes parental engagement as a simple and effective way to reduce children’s risk of smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs.


Mark S. Gold, M.D. and Christine Adamec



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  4. Blanco,  Carlos,  M.D.,  et al.  “Mental Health of College Students and Their Non-College-Attending Peers: Results from the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions.”  Archives of General Psychiatry 65, no. 12 (2008): 1,429–1,437.
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