Consequences of High-Risk Drinking

College student alcohol abuse can lead to severe and widespread negative consequences that can affect individual students (both heavy drinkers and those who refrain from alcohol use), entire campuses, and the communities in which campuses are situated. Many campus administrators acknowledge that student alcohol abuse is a serious threat to their institutions, with consequences as varied as vandalism; students' sleep and study being disrupted; poor student academic outcomes ranging from missing classes to dropping out; unintentional sexual contact between students; and in the worst cases, serious injuries, alcohol overdoses, and death.

In its landmark 2002 Task Force report on college alcohol use, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provided compelling national data across a number of outcomes that measure the negative consequences of college student alcohol abuse on an annual basis. Many of these figures were updated in 2005.

The following figures compiled by NIAAA researchers indicate consequences of alcohol abuse among college students aged 18 to 24:

Student Deaths: It is estimated that 1,700 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries each year. Most of these are related to motor vehicle crashes.

Unintentional Injury: An estimated 599,000 students suffer unintentional injuries after they have consumed alcohol.

Assault: More than 696,000 students are assaulted by another student under the influence of alcohol.

Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Unsafe Sex: An estimated 400,000 students had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 reported being too drunk to know if they consented to sex.

Drunk Driving: Approximately 2.1 million students drove while intoxicated in the last year.

The NIAAA report includes other measures of the effects of alcohol abuse that are troubling:

Vandalism: About 11 percent of student drinkers report that they have damaged property while drunk.

Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or other drug use.

How Alcohol Affects Students on Campus

According to the NIAAA, one-quarter of students suffer academic problems as a result of alcohol use. These problems include missing classes, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades'all of which can lead to academic probation or dropping out.

Unfortunately, the effect of alcohol abuse flows beyond those students who abuse. Students who abstain from alcohol entirely may also bear the effects of alcohol use by their peers. The secondary effects they suffer include study or sleep interruption, having to take care of a drunk friend or roommate, unwanted sexual advances from drunk students, property damage, and violent offenses that include physical or sexual assault.

The Effects of Alcohol Use on the Surrounding Community

College student alcohol abuse can have negative effects on residents and businesses'the entire environment surrounding a college campus. Residents in areas surrounding college campuses report problems that include noise disturbances, property damage, and public urination and vomiting on their premises. Given the effects suffered by those in areas around campus, these constituencies can often be recruited to participate in a communitywide effort to address the problem of college student alcohol abuse. When the problem is framed as one affecting the community and not just the campus, prevention advocates are more likely to come together to address it in a meaningful way.

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