Alcohol Abuse in College

Alcohol abuse among college students isn't a new problem, but it's one that brings up a number of concerns:

  • Many college students are under the legal drinking age.
  • Heavy drinking, or binge drinking, is extremely common among college students. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as consuming enough alcohol to result in a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08, which, for most adults, would be five drinks for men or four drinks for women over a two-hour period.

    By some estimates, roughly 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking, and nearly one-third of college students meet the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse.

    Screening for Alcohol Abuse

    Alcohol addiction treatment professionals utilize alcohol screenings to identify people who are likely to have a drinking problem. People with positive screening results may be advised to undergo more detailed diagnostic testing to determine whether they may benefit from alcohol rehab. Even individuals who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism, but whose heavy drinking is negatively impacting their lives, can receive treatment for their drinking problem before it becomes severe or life-threatening.

    Do You Have a Drinking Problem?

One of the most common screening instruments for alcohol abuse among college students is the CAGE criteria. Answering the following questions can give individuals a sense of the severity of their drinking problem:

C Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

A Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

G Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

E Eye opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Two "yes" responses are considered a positive test and suggest that further assessment is needed.

Other Alcohol Abuse Screening Tests

While CAGE has often been used in college student populations, it has been criticized for its inability to detect the full range of drinking problems experienced by adolescents and young adults.
Another alcohol abuse screening test, the MAST, includes 9 to 25 questions and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. The MAST is particularly useful in detecting more advanced drinking problems such as alcohol addiction, but it too may be limited in  its usefulness for college students.
A range of other alcohol abuse screening tests has proven useful, including:

  • The Young Adult Alcohol Problems Screening Test (YAAPST), which consists of 27 items and takes less than 10 minutes to complete
  • The College Alcohol Problems Scale-revised (CAPS-r)
  • The Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI)
  • The AUDIT (though the proper cutoff score to use for screening high-risk drinking among college students has been disputed)

    Typically, alcohol abuse screening  occurs in the campus health center, a counseling center, at the local hospital emergency department during intake,  or as part of a  campus judicial system.

    When Does Alcohol Use Become a Problem?

    While there is no steadfast rule that applies to all men and women of all ages, the following guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are used to measure the risk of alcohol abuse:
  • Men who drink more than 14 standard drinks per week or four drinks per day
Women who have more than seven standard drinks per week or three drinks per day.

The NIAAA defines a standard drink as one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.


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