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College Drinking: Consumption and Harm

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College Drinking
National studies consistently indicate that about 80 percent of college students drink alcohol. (NIAAA, 2002)
At Cal the level is lower. The following was reported by undergraduates in Fall '08 (CSS, 2008):

  • 72% consumed alcohol in the past year;
  • 60% consumed alcohol in the past 30 days; and
  • 52% of those under 21 consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.







Binge Drinking
Nationwide among college students and other 18-24 year olds, binge drinking is increasing. A "binge" is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BA) to 0.08 gram-percent or above. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

  • National studies indicate that about 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking with about 20 percent binging three or more times over the previous 2 weeks (NIAAA 2002).
  • At Cal binge drinking appears to be declining moderately. The following was reported by undergraduates in Fall '08 (CSS, 2008):
    • 26% of all students reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks;
    • 43% of drinkers reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks.





College vs. Non-College Student Drinking
College students are more likely to use alcohol and to drink more heavily than their non-college peers and surveys show little change in this difference over the last 20 years. (NIAAA, 9/2005). A recent study which followed students from early adolescence through their mid 20's (Timberlake et al, 2007) found that compared with their peers who never attended college, current college students were less likely to have been binge drinkers prior to their college years, but more likely to binge drink once they entered college. This change is often referred to as "The College Effect" and reflects the immersion of new students into the developmental and social context of college.

Based on self-report data collected from all first year students taking the AlcoholEdu pre-college (July) and post-transition (October) surveys, we saw the following "college effect" at Cal in Fall '08:

  • Number of non-drinkers decreased from 73% to 67%; compared with a decrease of 62% to 51% in the national aggregate comparison.
  • Number of drinkers increased from 27% to 33%; compared with an increase from 38% to 49% in the national aggregate comparison.
  • Number of heavy-episodic (binge) drinkers in the past two weeks increased from 13% to 15%; compared with an increase from 24% to 32% in the national aggregate comparison.

Gender, Race, Geography
All national surveys of college drinking report variation in alcohol use by gender, race and geographical region. Men drink at higher levels than women. The difference, however, is not as dramatic as might be expected. Four of the surveys found 50-60% of college men in the samples reported heavy drinking episodes, with 34-40% of women reporting heavy drinking. Trends over time suggest fewer differences between men and women. There are marked racial differences among student groups (Wechsler, Fulop, Padilla, Lee & Patrick, 1997). White students reported nearly three times as much heavy high-risk drinking as black students. Hispanic students reported approximately 25% less heavy drinking than white students. Finally, regional variations were found. Alcohol use was less prevalent in Western colleges than in Northeastern or North Central colleges. (NIAAA 9/2005)


PartySafe@Cal is a program of University Health Services in collaboration with other campus and community organizations.
The mission is to reduce harm associated with drinking in the campus area.
To volunteer or for more information call 510-642-7202 or email hp@uhs.berkeley.edu.