Negative Effects of Alcohol on the College Students

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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The college student population has grown in recent years due to the expectation from workforce companies to have a bachelor’s degree in order to get hired on. The National Center for Education Statistics states, “Between 2000 and 2016, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 28 percent (from 13.2 million to 16.9 million students). By 2027, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase to 17.4 million students (2018).” Due to the increase in this population there is also a correlation in an increase in negative health effects.

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The World Health Organization defines health as a “State of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease.” Negative college health could be influenced by multiple factors such as; decrease in mental health, decrease in physical activity, increase in risky sexual activity, and increase in alcohol use. There are many more influential factors that contribute to the decrease in overall health as a college student however these are a few of the main factors contributing to overall decline. A theory on this decline could be due to the transition from high school into colleges or universities which is often marked by a sudden initiation into a less authoritarian environment, greater freedom, and less constrained behaviors (Otoo, Gyebi, Wireko-Gyebi, 2017). There is statistical evidence to show an increase in these risk factors contributing to this decline in overall health of college students.

Mental health has been a stigmatized topic for many years now even though a large percentage of college students suffer from it in some way. The proportion of students with a diagnosed mental health condition increased from 21.9 percent in 2007 to 35.5 percent in 2016–17 (Canaday, 2018). This could be related to the treatment available on campuses that allow for students to feel less stigmatized. Canaday states, “The study found that rates of both perceived and personal stigma decreased over time, from 64.2 percent to 46 percent and from 11.4 percent to 5.7 percent, respectively” (2018). Mental health is extremely common among students in college due to many factors such as stress, poor diet, binge drinking, and decrease in physical activity.

Physical activity is another contributor to decrease in overall health of college students. An examination of the 50% to 80% of students gaining weight during their freshman year suggests that the average weight gain of these students ranges from 5 to 10 lbs, with a significant number of individuals changing from a normal weight to being considered overweight (La Caille et al., 2011). Just like mental health there are many factors students in college experience that can lead to this weight gain. Each of these factors intertwine and impact one another. Such as mental health leading to the decrease in physical activity. Another factor that relates to decrease physical activity can be the college drinking atmosphere many participate in.

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours. As stated earlier many enter college with the mindset that they finally have their own freedom to do whatever they want and make their own choices for themselves. Therefore students often start drinking heavily when they enter college with no previous experience with it before. This results in many students consuming more than they are able to due to not knowing there limit. Data collected by the Core Institute for 2010 revealed that approximately 82% of college students consumed alcohol in the past 12 months, 69% consumed alcohol in the past 30 days and 44% engaged in heavy drinking at least once in the last two weeks (Sheppard et al., 2016).” With this many students participating in drinking without experience there is a high risk for impaired thoughts and actions to arise. This leads us into risky sexual activity which intertwines directly with binge drinking.

Risky sexual activity is another topic that is highly relatable to college students. It also contributes to this populations overall health as well. Risky sexual activity is high amongst the college population, nearly 3 million United States adolescents acquire an STI every year with almost 62% occurring in individuals under 25 (Caico, 2014). This puts the college population as the most prevalent population whom these health issues are the most prevalent. One reason this could be attributed to is binge drinking. Like every other negative health factor stated above alcohol use plays a role in it just as it does in increasing risky sexual activity.

Alcohol is one of the most abused substances among college students. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that four out of five college students drink alcohol. In relation to non college peers, the college student population is consuming alcohol at much larger rates and encounter and increase in negative health consequences as a result of these drinking habits. Alcohol plays a role in each of the health concerns stated above. Starting with mental health, there is often correlation between struggles with mental health and using alcohol as a coping strategy. “Park and Levenson observed that in a sample of 260 college students consuming alcohol, a greater proportion of male relative to female college students reported drinking to cope, 55.4% vs 43%, respectively (2016).” This is over half of males and almost half of females who admit to using this substance as a coping mechanism. This is an example of a reinforcing factor, struggles with mental health are in turn reinforcing problem drinking. Not only are people declining in their mental health due to alcohol use but their physical activity has decreased as a result as well.

Alcohol use and physical activity have opposite impacts on one’s overall health. Physical activity is a preventive factor for poor health and disease such as cardiovascular disease. Where alcohol use has the opposite effect on ones body and is associated with immediate health risks. Alcohol use is known to be a predisposing factor for physical activity some contend that “drunkorexia” explains this relationship. Some common characteristics include alcohol use/ abuse, disordered eating behaviors, and excessive physical activity (Chambers, 2008). The increase in alcohol use has a positive correlation to an increase in physical activity leading to disordered eating. This is often seen in college women due to gender differences playing a role in the relationship between physical activity and alcohol use and the emphasis on the thin ideal in females versus males (Davis et al., 2017). An increase in alcohol use, physical activity, and disordered eating can cause detrimental impacts on the health of an individual. As we see a positive correlation in alcohol use and physical activity we also see this same trend in alcohol use and risky sexual activity.

Alcohol use also plays a large role when it comes to sexual activity in the college culture. As we have seen throughout the research large numbers of the college student population are engaging in binge drinking. These decisions often lead to impaired judgement and regrettable decisions. In the United States, a survey conducted by American College Health Association on college students found that within 30 days prior to the study, 19,406 (26.1%) of college students undertook a regrettable action after consuming alcohol, whereas 17,224 (2.2%) forgot where they were (Otoo, Gyebi, Wireko-Gyebi, 2017). Not only were these students damaging their brains but binge drinking plays a role as an enabling factor for increased risky sexual activity. About 12,000 of the respondents in the survey also noted that they engaged in unprotected sex (Otoo, Gyebi, Wireko-Gyebi, 2017). These regrettable actions could lead to much larger consequences such as contracting an STI or even accidentally getting pregnant. These harsh realities continue to be problems college students are facing due to the constant environmental influences around them.

Throughout our whole lives the environment influences our decisions each and every day. The environment doesn’t just include the weather and nature around us but involves where we live, who we associate ourselves with and what resources are available to individuals or not. When it comes to the environment of college students peers play a large influential factor. Specifically when it comes to alcohol use. Many college students are accepting of peers binge drinking due to it being the norm in this environment. This could be due to the large conception that “everyone is doing it.” This could be due to social media playing such a large role in society today, the most recent studies confirm that college students use social media sources to reconstruct negative and risky drinking practices into positive and highly valued outcomes (Hebden et al., 2015). Along with peers reconstructing the risky drinking there is also a lack of negative consequences by authority. A large number of students live off campus after their first year this is three fourths of a universities campus that is no longer under the policies the university has established regarding alcohol use. It is then up to law enforcement to enforce underage drinking consequences for this large population of off campus students.

The community around college campuses are often accommodating to students budgets. Among 1684 off-premise establishments surrounding 118 college campuses, about half of the establishments sold 24- or 30-can cases, almost a quarter of the off premise establishments sold kegs… the average prices for 12-packs of beer and 24-packs of beer were $6.08 and $11.74 (Kuo et al., 2003). This increases the amount of underage individuals due to alcohol being readily available to them within their budget. Not only are liquor stores appealing to the college students wallet but restaurants and bars are doing the same. About 63% of the off-premise establishments offered promotions such as volume discounts, advertised price specials, or coupons (Kuo et al., 2003). This is shown right here in the city of La Crosse, many bars put on daily specials to attract in college students at a cheap cost. Many establishments going as far as to offer wristbands costing under $7.00 that are good for all you can drink until bar close. This is just one example of a cheap drinking deal in this city that are encourages college students to drink. Lastly, the enforcement on getting into bars has decrease over the years due to many students obtaining the use of fake identification. Stated by Arria et al., “Substantial proportion (66.1%) of this college student sample used a false ID at least once to obtain alcohol during college (2013).” This is over half of underage students consuming alcohol due to the lack of enforcement at bars and other entities. Overall, as shown through the statistics environmental influences play a large role in influencing alcohol use and making it readily available at a reasonable cost to college students.

Throughout the research there were many commonalities among studies. The first limitation I noticed when researching this topic were the size of the sample population for the studies. Many of the research studies only focused on one specific school or university and didn’t generalize there research to college students as a whole. This made it difficult to understand if the data was only specific to that university or if it was representing the college student population as a whole. This was the case in the following studies; Park and Levenson (2016), La Caille et al. (2011), and Canaday (2018). A gap I could found in the research was that a large portion of the sources I read through were focused on how freshman in college specifically are impacted by alcohol use. This gap was difficult when it came to my research focusing on the whole college population rather than first year or on campus students due to these articles completely leaving out the other college students that didn’t fit into this category. These limitations and gaps could be useful in other research topics however it made it difficult for my research based on my priority population. Overall, these were just two areas of limitations and gaps in relation to priority population that I came across during my research relating to alcohol use in college students.

In conclusion, the college student populations overall health and well being is lower compared to other populations. Many factors play a role in this decline of health including; mental health, physical activity, and risky sexual activity. However as shown through the research alcohol use negatively contributes to each of these individual health determinants. Alcohol use is increased among college students due to the acceptability from peers, social media putting it in a positive light, cheap costs, accessibility, and lack of enforcement and discipline. Moving forward it is important to educate the college population on the effects of this substance on their bodies, stop the cheap deals and specials for this population, and increase enforcement and discipline. By understanding these harsh realities there’s hope for change moving forward to create a healthy population of students ready to positively impact the world.

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Negative Effects of Alcohol on the College Students. (2021, May 20). Retrieved from