Current Scope of Alcohol Use Among US College Students

According to a national survey, almost 60% of college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month1, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe2.

Binge-Drinking

"Binge-drinking" or heavy episodic drinking is considered to be 4 or more standard drinks for females within two hours and 5 or more standard drinks for males* within two hours. Binge drinking leads to BAC levels at or above .08, which leads to impairment of functioning and increased risk of negative consequences. Examples of binge drinking among college students include: "pre-gaming," drinking games (beer pong), funneling, and "shot-gunning."

*male and female refers to sex assigned at birth

Consequences of Harmful & Underage College Drinking

Death - Approximately 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

Physical Injury - Approximately 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol.

Sexual Violence - Approximately 97,000 students report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Academic Problems - Approximately 25% of college students report academic consequences from drinking including: missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

Alcohol Use Disorders - Approximately 20% of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Other Consequences - Unsafe sex, driving under the influence, vandalism, property damage, and security/police involvement.

Factors Affecting Student Drinking

Living Arrangements

  • Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities, followed by on-campus housing, such as dormitories and residence halls. Caltech does not have fraternities and sororities, but each house has its own culture and norms around substance use.
  • Students who live independently off-campus, in apartments, tend to drink less.
  • Commuting students who live with their families drink the least.

First-Year Vulnerability

  • First-year students who live on campus may be at particular risk for alcohol misuse, since they may be encountering it for the first time, and could be under greater influence of peer pressure.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success.
  • Heavy drinking may result in excessive alcohol consumption that interferes with successful adaptation to campus life.

Low-Risk Drinking vs. High-Risk Drinking: Consider the Differences

Characteristics of "Lower-Risk" Drinking:

  • No more than 2 drinks per day for males and 1 drink per day for females. Standardized drink equivalents are as follows: 1 drink = 12 oz bottle of beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Not exceeding a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) level of .05 to .06.
  • You are able to maintain good judgment and control over your behavior.
  • You act in accordance with your personal values and guidelines for behavior.
  • You are enjoying yourself/peers and not trying to get "wasted."

Characteristics of "High-Risk" Drinking:

  • Binge-drinking or drinking to BAC levels of .08 and higher.
  • Engaging in drinking games.
  • Drinking to the point of "brown-out" or "blackout".
  • Mixing alcohol types or using alcohol with other drugs.
  • Drinking to get "wasted" or to escape.

Standard Drink Sizes

Standard drink sizes

In general, each standard drink raises a person's BAC level by .02- .03. It takes one hour to metabolize one standard drink. Despite the various myths (such as drinking coffee, going for a run, taking a cold shower), the only variable that can "sober you up quicker" is time.

The Bi-Phasic Response

Alcohol's bi-phasic response

College Myth: "The more you drink, the better you will feel."

Reality: Most people psychologically maximize the benefits (elevated mood, increased physical energy, euphoria) of alcohol between a BAC of .05- .06 (around 2-3 standard drinks). At a BAC of ~.055, drinkers typically hit the point of "diminishing returns", which means you actually begin to feel worse with increased alcohol consumption.

Blood Alcohol Concentration Chart

A Useful Blood Alcohol Concentration Chart
Remember: If you are choosing to drink, stay in the Green Zone

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning & Assisting a Peer in Need

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning: (typically occurs as a cluster of symptoms)

  • Semi-conscious or unconscious
  • Vomiting
  • Hypo-thermic skin response: cold, bluish, clammy skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing

If you come across a peer who is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to GET HELP! Even if you have been drinking yourself, please call for help: remember the Good Samaritan policy.

  • Call Caltech Security (626) 395-5000 (x5000) or 911.
  • Turn the person on their side to maintain an open airway and prevent aspiration on vomit.
  • Try to keep the person awake.
  • Stay with the person until medical support arrives.
  • Do not give the person food or water.

Abstinence Strategies

Students may choose to abstain from alcohol during their college experience for a variety of different reasons. These reasons often include: a family history of alcoholism/addiction, drinking alcohol does not align with a person's value system, past negative experiences related to alcohol use, or a student may be "in recovery" from alcohol or drug addiction.

If you choose to not consume alcohol during your time at Caltech, it is important to know that many of your peers are making the same choice. Below are some abstinence strategies that you can employ as you socialize with peers who may be consuming alcohol:

  • Hold a red cup with a non-alcoholic beverage in it. By doing this, you are less likely to be offered an alcoholic beverage from your peers.
  • Be the Sober Designated Driver. By committing to this important role/task, you are ensuring that you and your peers have safe transportation to and from the event.
  • "Serve notice." It is important to let your peers know what your boundaries are early and consistently. This will likely result in less peer pressure to consume alcohol.
  • Say, "I have somewhere I need to be early tomorrow morning." Technically, you will be somewhere tomorrow morning - whether that be in bed, running a few miles at the Rose Bowl, or enjoying coffee at Red Door… you will be somewhere!

Harm-Reduction Strategies

Harm-reduction strategies are simple behavioral strategies that will reduce the likelihood of you experiencing negative consequences related to drinking. While this list is not exhaustive, some of the most commonly used strategies are included below:

  • Keep track of your drinks. Tally your drinks by keeping the bottle caps in your pocket, using a wristband system, or marking the number of drinks consumed on your arm with a pen. Don't ever leave your drink unattended and don't accept drinks from unfamiliar people or even peers that you recently met.
  • Set a limit. Plan to consume no more than 2-4 drinks throughout the entire evening. Remember, stay under the binge-drinking limit for your assigned sex at birth. With that said, for some people, even 2-3 drinks can be too much and may result in negative consequences.
  • Pace & space. Space your drinks out over the night. Have no more than one standard drink per hour. Alternate with water to stay hydrated.
  • Eat a meal before consuming alcohol. By eating a meal before drinking, the alcohol will be absorbed by the food and released into your system at a slower rate, thus your BAC will not be as elevated.
  • Use the "Buddy System." Stick with friends that you trust. Remember: strength in numbers and "no friend left alone." Hold your friends accountable to their goals and be an active bystander.
  • Always have safe transportation. This includes having a SOBER (completely sober, not the "friend who drank the least among you") designated driver or utilizing a cab service such as Uber or Lyft.
  • Do not accept drinks from strangers or drink out of a community bowl (i.e. jungle juice). This will significantly decrease the risk of drug-facilitated sexual assault.
  • Get to the party early & leave early. By doing this, you are less likely to encounter drunk peers or "secondhand consequences" of peer alcohol abuse.

References

1 SAMHSA. 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 6.88B—Alcohol Use in the Past Month among Persons Aged 18 to 22, by College Enrollment Status and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2013 and 2014. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default /files/NSDUH-­DetTabs2014/NSDUH-DetTabs2014.htm#tab6-88b

2 SAMHSA. 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 6.89B—Binge Alcohol Use in the Past Month among Persons Aged 18 to 22, by College Enrollment Status and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2013 and 2014. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs2014/NSDUH-DetTabs2014.htm#tab6-89b

3 Hingson, R.W.; Zha, W.; and Weitzman, E.R. Magnitude of and trends in alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18 –24, 1998 –2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (Suppl. 16):12–20, 2009. PMID: 19538908 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701090/

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