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Scope of the Problem

College student drinking is widespread. The Harvard School of Public Health’s College Alcohol Study (CAS) found that between 1993 and 2001, approximately 44 percent of college students were heavy drinkers, defined for men as five or more drinks in row on at least one occasion in the past two weeks, and for women as four or more drinks.

Data indicate that drinking behavior is becoming increasingly polarized on campuses:

  • The percentage of students who abstained from alcohol increased from 16 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in 2001, while the percentage of those engaged in frequent heavy drinking rose from 19.7 percent in 1993 to 22.8 percent in 2001.
  • At the same time, the percentage of non–heavy drinking students decreased from 39.7 percent in 1993 to 36.3 percent in 2001, while that of occasional heavy drinkers fell from 24.3 percent in 1993 to 21.6 percent in 2001.

Additionally, students report getting drunk more frequently in 2001 than in 1993:

  • In 1993, nearly a quarter of students said they became drunk more than three times during the past 30 days; this rate increased to 29.4 percent in 2001.
  • The percentage of students who said they drank alcohol to get drunk climbed from 39.9 percent in 1993 to 48.2 percent in 2001.

Drinking rates vary considerably on different campuses. For instance, the 2000 CAS report suggests that campuses in the Northeast and the Midwest have higher rates of drinking than campuses elsewhere. In addition, drinking varies among different populations on campus. Men are more likely to drink heavily than are women. According to a 1999 study by the Core Institute fraternity members and athletes are more likely to drink heavily and to suffer negative consequences than are other groups on campus. White students are much more likely to drink heavily (50.2 percent) than are students of other ethnicities, such as Hispanic (34.4 percent), Native American Indian/Other (33.6 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander (26.2 percent), and black/African American (21.7 percent).


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