Booze Before Books: Binge Drinking Booms on College Campuses

By Aissa Sow • May 1st, 2008 • Category: News, Public Affairs

A young woman drinks from a beer bong as onlookers cheer her on.
A young woman drinks from a beer bong as onlookers cheer her on.

It’s Friday night at Pace University and Matthew Bennett and friends are preparing for the night ahead. They start off in a friend’s dorm room, pre-gaming, chugging down some vodka. It’s a matter of thrift. Get your drink on before hitting the bar, where oblivion would come at a higher price. Bennett and crew are aiming to get as tipsy as possible before heading out on the town. This is a typical weekend at any given college across America in the age of binge drinking.

Binge drinking is big on campuses from Harvard to the University of Iowa with no signs of sobering up. Across America, college students are engaging in the phenomenon of binge drinking at an increasing rate. Alcohol appears to be the favored substance of abuse and is often coupled with other drugs as well.

Binge drinking has been defined for men as having five or more drinks in a row and four or more drinks for women. What’s new here is the quantity. No more nursing a drink to get mildly buzzed. The binge drinker sets out to get obliterated and fast. Surveys by Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), found that about half of college students engage in binge drinking. It is not a laughing matter. Binge drinkers are more likely to miss classes, fall behind in their school work, flunk out and even die.

In Southern Minnesota, there was a string of alcohol-related deaths among college-age women. In December of last year, a 20-year-old Winona State University student was found dead in an off-campus apartment of acute alcohol poisoning. Earlier, two other University of Minnesota Mankato campus students died of alcohol excess. One woman was struck by a car when she stumbled in the street, leaving a sorority party. The other died of acute alcohol poisoning after celebrating her 21st birthday. A survey done last year found over half of Winona State’s students engage in binge drinking.           

Not only do 40 percent of college students admit to binge drinking in other studies, but half of these students report binging more than once a week and having five or more alcohol-related issues during the school year. Over 300,000 students per year need emergency health care for alcohol poisoning, and last year alone 196, 277 emergency room visits were attributed to students mixing alcohol with drugs.

In New York City, St. Luke’s Hospital, near Columbia University dedicated a special room for students from the college who come in with alcohol-related health issues.

Binged out obliviousness contributes to other problems. According to a study, a staggering 60 percent of college women report being under the influence of alcohol when they engaged in sexual intercourse and contracted sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Binge drinkers are pushed into excess by an array of games. There is Flip Cup, Brain Damage, Death Ring, Up and Down the River, and the list goes on.

One of the most popular drinking games is Beer Pong, during which the players throw a ping pong ball across the table aiming it to land in a beer cup at the other side. When the ball lands in the cup the defending team must drink the beer inside. The goal is to eliminate all of the other team’s cups before yours are eliminated. The losing team must drink all of the beer of the winnings team’s cups.

There are also tools such as the “beer bong,” which is essentially a funnel that many use to consume alcohol at a rapid rate. Generally one person pours, usually beer, down the tube while the other end is in the mouth of someone else. The aim is to drink as much beer in one attempt without spilling any. Other participant’s make sure that the funnel is held as high and vertical as possible to ensure that gravity will make the alcohol digest that much faster. Over the years students have gotten creative and taken the beer bong to new heights with innovations like the Monkey Chug, where a student hangs upside down from a tree, or whatever will hold, and then proceeds to drink into a stupor.

Playful as this all sounds, college binge drinkers have a negative impact on their classmates as well. On college campuses where 70 percent of the student body engages in binge drinking, 87 percent of all students have had one or more problems including physical assault, sleep impairment, and sexual harassment due to the drinking of their peers. Some students also report having to take care of a friend or roommate after their drinking went too far.

Despite the statistics and reports of injury and even death from binge drinking, many college students take it in stride.

“It’s a freshman thing mostly,” said Christian Ruiz, 19, a sophomore at Cortland University who identifies himself as a binge drinker. “You learn how to control your drinking as you get older here in college.”

Ruiz admits that he has experienced some scary moments both personally and socially because of binge drinking. However, he contends that he is not an alcoholic and does not drink as often as he used to—but when he does his mission is to get drunk.

Many seem to feel that drunkenness is an inherent part of college culture.

“I’d say it’s more for the college experience because I definitely will not be drinking this much when I leave school,” said Ruiz. “At least I don’t think so.”

Another cultural dimension is an apparent racial distinction. Many of the schools that have had the biggest problems with binge drinking amongst their students were predominately white. Studies have shown that on average Caucasian students are more likely to be binge drinkers than their minority classmates. At historically black colleges binge drinking takes place but not at the same magnitude as that of majority white schools. In a landmark study conducted by Henry Wechsler in 1993, the results concluded that only 16.5 percent of black students were binge drinkers compared with, 48.1 percent of white students.  

Darril Marshall, a Sophomore at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, who is black, says the statistics make sense to him.

“It’s harder for us to get liquor at HBCUs whereas, from what I heard, it is easily accessible at white schools,” said Marshall. “We know how to have fun without alcohol.”   

The venerable old college tradition of keg parties and tail-gating at football games are for the most part a white phenomenon. What’s more, black students generally have less disposable income than their white classmates. In addition to this there is a large female population on black campuses and women tend to consume less alcohol than men. Although fraternities and sororities are very much apart of the college experience on HBCU campuses, many of those black fraternities under the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Organizations have barred alcohol at Greek events.

Binge drinking is a phenomenon that does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. The only hope for the future can be that these students learn to control their drinking habits better and are able to fall out of the good old college routine. Many seem to believe that after graduation their beer pong championship days will be over and stopping will be a piece of cake. Or at least they hope so.

To Obtain Help for yourself or a friend contact:

The National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Information Center


National Drug & Alcohol Treatment Hotline























Aissa Sow is a junior at Hunter College, majoring in media studies. She is considering a career in magazine writing or entertainment law.
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