Binge drinking is trending down among college students, study finds

Photo (c) Sylvie Bouchard - Fotolia

However, rates among non-college students are still worrying

One of the stigmas commonly attached to college students is their penchant for excessive drinking and partying. But new findings indicate that binge drinking is actually down among college students as a whole.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) say that binge drinking declined every year from 2005 to 2014 among college students. However, they say that the practice is becoming more prevalent among young people who aren’t in college. Study author Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., says the problem may stem from differences in social structure.

"Among young adults who aren't in college, there aren't the same organizational supports to implement interventions, and that may be contributing to why binge drinking is increasing in that group," he said.

Interventions stymie binge drinking

Research for the study first began back in 1998 when NIAAA created a task force to analyze and come up with solutions for excessive drinking among college students.

The group found that binge drinking and related problems increased among college students aged 18-24 between 1999 and 2005. By the end of that period, 45% of college students reported drinking more than 5 drinks on an occasion at least once in the last 30 days, and 28% admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol.

However, over the next decade those numbers began declining. By 2014, reports of binge drinking declined from 45% to 37%, and reports of driving while under the influence declined to 17%. Hingson theorizes that there were many factors that led to this change, but chief among them may have been an increased focus on interventions by college administrators.

“Both individually oriented interventions and environmental policy interventions were identified," he said. "Possibly, as the intervention evidence accumulated and was disseminated, more colleges expanded the reach and repertoire of their interventions."

Young people still at risk

Unfortunately, findings for non-college students during this period did not improve. The researchers found that binge drinking among non-college students increased from 36% to 40% between 1999 and 2014. They say that it’s important that these young people are also targeted with interventions to cut the rate of extreme binge drinking, which has become a serious public health concern.

“Persistent high levels of heavy episodic drinking and related problems among emerging adults underscore a need to expand individually oriented interventions, college/community collaborative programs, and evidence-supported policies to reduce their drinking and related problems,” the researchers concluded.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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