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The Dangers of College Binge Drinking


What parents and students should know

By Taara Khalilnaji


Most students do more than study in college — many see parties as a major part of the college experience. And most will drink alcohol while out; according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about four out of five college students drink. The Journal of American College Health estimates that 77 percent of underage college students drink alcohol.

These high rates of alcohol consumption can be especially troubling when paired with irresponsible behavior. Forty percent of college-aged students engage in binge drinking, or heavy alcohol consumption in a short period of time. Binge drinking is consuming of five or more drinks (for men) or four or more drinks (for women) within a two-hour period.

College binge drinking can have serious consequences: it can lead to unsafe behavior (like drunk driving or unprotected sex), violence (such as physical or sexual assault) or academic problems (falling behind in your classes or failing exams), and it can cause permanent physical harm, including liver and kidney damage. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 1,800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. Here are the facts about binge drinking that every college student should know.


What To Know

What most students don't think about while pouring another shot of vodka is that alcohol depresses the nerves; automatic behaviors such as breathing, gagging and even heart rate are slowed down and can eventually stop in people who over-indulge. Drinking can also cause mood and behavior swings, making a drinker unusually happy, sad or aggressive. Alcohol also interferes with brain function, making it difficult to think clearly or move with coordination.

Even after you stop drinking, alcohol continues to circulate through the body and the bloodstream, and blood alcohol concentration continues to rise — meaning that students may not realize they’ve had one drink too many until the symptoms of alcohol poisoning begin.

One early symptom of alcohol poisoning? Hugging the toilet bowl. Vomiting can help to flush the alcohol out of someone’s system, but it carries another potential danger —  asphyxiation (choking). If a drinker falls unconscious, begins vomiting and can’t clear the vomit from their mouth, they might choke to death.

Untreated alcohol poisoning can also lead to hypothermia, a severe drop in body temperature; hypoglycemia — a decrease in blood sugar — is also possible, and might lead to seizures; severe dehydration can cause kidney damage and permanent brain damage.

Binge drinking is the leading cause of alcohol poisoning, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It’s important for students to be able to spot the signs of alcohol poisoning, and to know when to call for help.

The signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion
  • Stumbling, difficulty walking
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Slow or heavy breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Extreme paleness or a bluish skin tone


What To Talk About

While students may tell their parents that their Friday night of choice is a date with their Anthropology research paper in the library or movie marathon with their roommates, it's crucial that parents talk to their kids about the dangers of binge drinking and responsible partying. Here are some talking points for parents of college-aged children:

  • If your child is a freshman, pay attention to his or her experiences during the first six weeks on campus, when he or she is settling into a new home and taking part in club and Greek orientations and activities. Check in with your student frequently during the school year to help spot any patterns of behavior that might signal a problem with alcohol.
  • Set clear expectations about academic performance; alcohol’s wear on the body, the mind and the overall health of an individual can impair a student’s ability to attend class, keep up with schoolwork and maintain academic performance.
  • Make sure your son or daughter knows that underage drinking carries serious legal consequences — as do other alcohol-related offenses, like drinking in public, using a fake ID or driving or biking under the influence.
  • Talk about safe-partying behaviors and responsible drinking; make sure your student understands the importance of always having a designated driver. Encourage him or her to use the buddy system — sticking together with a group of friends and watching out for each other.
  • Stress to your son or daughter that if they suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, they should not wait to observe more symptoms, or assume that someone simply passed out and will sleep it off; they should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Remember that drinking, especially binge drinking, should never be an outlet for students to relieve stress or personal concerns. If you suspect your college student is over-dependent on alcohol, encourage them to seek counseling. University and college campuses often have treatment programs or specialized counseling programs to aid students who have alcohol-related problems.


Published September 18, 2012.

Taara Khalilnaji is a freelance writer living in the California Bay Area.   

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