Health Risks

The negative physical and mental effects of the use of alcohol and other drugs are well documented. Use of these drugs may cause: blackouts, poisoning, overdose and death; physical and psychological dependence; damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and liver; inability to learn and remember information; and psychological problems including depression, psychosis, and severe anxiety. 

Impaired judgment and coordination resulting from the use of alcohol and other drugs are associated with acquaintance assault and rape; DUI/DWI arrests; hazing; falls, drowning and other injuries; contracting sexually-transmitted infections including AIDS; and unwanted or unplanned sexual experiences and pregnancy.  Patterns of risk-taking behavior and dependency not only interfere in the lives of the abusers, but can also have a negative impact on the affected students' academic work, emotional wellbeing and adjustment to college life.

Alcohol abuse is a progressive disorder in which physical dependency can develop. Even low doses of alcohol impair brain function, judgment, alertness, coordination and reflexes. Very high doses cause suppression of respiration and death. Chronic alcohol abuse can produce dementia, sexual impotence, cirrhosis of the liver, and heart disease; and sudden withdrawal can produce severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and life-threatening convulsions.

Neuroscience research shows that alcohol impairs the formation of new memories and learning, especially in the developing brain--and as college-aged students, your brains are still developing. Alcohol use can cause both short term and long-term problems for those who choose to use it. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant whose effects depend on how much you drink. These effects may range from loss of inhibition with only one drink to making someone "stumbling drunk" to acute alcohol poisoning with loss of consciousness and difficulty breathing. Acute alcohol poisoning usually occurs in situations of rapid alcohol intake such as shots, funneling, keg stands and drinking games. Even after someone passes out their BAC (blood alcohol concentration) can continue to rise from the alcohol still in their systems. Medical attention is critical to prevent serious injury or death.

  • Family history of alcohol/drug dependency 
  • An initial high tolerance: minimal effects are felt at the onset of alcohol use 
  • An acquired high tolerance: due to repeated exposure, more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effect 
  • High-risk drinking behaviors: drinking to get drunk, any drinking that causes tolerance to increase, drinking games and contests, doing shots of alcohol 
  • Heavy episodic drinking 
  • Use of drugs that are illegal or not prescribed to the student

Low-risk behavior

  • Abstaining (the lowest risk choice) 
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages only if you are 21 or older 
  • Thinking about whether you will drink before the party
  • Eating a meal before drinking
  • Drinking no more than one drink per hour; no more than three drinks per day 
  • Knowing exactly what you are drinking 
  • Alternating alcohol-free drinks throughout the evening 
  • Knowing how you will get home safely before you go out 

High-risk behavior

  • Chugging, drinking games, shots (drinking anything out of a punch bowl, trough, hose, or funnel) 
  • Drinking to get drunk 
  • Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence 
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages if you are younger than 21 
  • Drinking too much or too fast or on an empty stomach 
  • Having little or no clue what is in your glass or leaving it unattended 
  • Mixing alcohol with any medications or illegal drugs 
  • Going to parties where people drink too much 
  • Substance abuse can present immediate health risks such as alcohol poisoning and death from overdose. Substance abuse also presents immediate safety risks that are not so obvious:
  • A decrease in the ability to make safe and healthy decisions 
  • The increase in violence associated with alcohol and other drugs 
  • The increased likelihood of sexual assault 

For more information

Data published by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) illustrate the extent and impact of alcohol abuse on college campuses.

  • Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes. 
  • Assault: More than 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. 
  • Sexual Assault: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. 
  • Alcohol Use Disorder:  About 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.
  • Other Consequences:  These include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, damage, and involvement with the police.