College Student Drinking Rates

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

About half (49%) of American college students don’t drink alcohol on a regular basis, 31% consume five or fewer drinks per week, and only 12% (a little over one in ten) consume ten or more drinks per week.

That’s the finding of a poll conducted for the Dole Nutrition Institute by The Polling Company of Washington, DC. 1

These findings are consistent with that of other nation-wide research. For example, the average (median) number of drinks consumed by college students was 1.5 per week, according to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study’s survey of 17,592 students at 140 colleges and universities across the United States. The authors of the study described this consumption number as "very small." 2

Nation-wide research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reveals that the proportion of college students in the U.S. who drank any alcohol within the previous month decreased significantly between 1993 and 2001.

The study also found that average consumption among students under the age of 21 dropped from 22.3 drinks per month in 1993 to 20.8 per month in the latter period. Thus, in 2001, college students in the U.S. under the age of 21 consumed an average of only 2/3 of a drink per day. 3

Freshmen college students in 2003 reported the lowest rates of drinking in 38 years. The proportion who occasionally or frequently drinks beer has dropped to an historic low of 44.8%, down from 73.7% in 1982. Consumption of wine and distilled spirits (liquor) also dropped to record lows.

The College Student survey, often called the Annual College Freshman Survey, is the oldest and largest empirical study of higher education in the US. Established in 1996 by the American Council on Education, the survey is conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California at Los Angeles. 4

 

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