1.4 Million College-Age Students Drink Alcohol Every Day

More than one million college students ages 18–22 drink alcohol every day, and about two million use illicit drugs every month, according to a new analysis of federal data.

Long seen as a rite of passage or part of the college experience, drug and alcohol abuse among young college students continues to be a national health problem.

Researchers writing in the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality Report analyzed data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to calculate how many 18- to 22-year-old college students used substances of abuse on an average day.

“As these youth enter adulthood, substance use appears common for many of them,” the authors of the report wrote. “More than one-third of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 engaged in binge drinking in the past month; about 1 in 5 used an illicit drug in the past month.”

Based on annual averages from 2011 to 2014, almost 10 percent of full-time college students ages 18–22 try alcohol for the first time every year, and about six percent try an illicit drug such as marijuana, cocaine or hallucinogens.

Alcohol and drug use is common, and so are its consequences.

Underage drinking in college leads to about 1,800 deaths, 696,000 assault cases and 97,000 sexual assault cases every year, according to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism studies. Other alcohol statistics indicate that alcoholism is common among college students.

A quarter of college students experience academic declines because of drinking, and about 1.5 million students develop a substance use disorder.

“Substance use constitutes one of the most serious public health issues for young people in the United States, creating negative health, social and economic consequences for adolescents, their families, and communities, and for the nation as a whole,” the researchers wrote in the CBHSQ Report.

College Students’ Daily Alcohol and Drug Use

The authors categorized students as part-time or full-time, and reported the average number of students who consumed substances of abuse on an average day. There are more full-time students than part-time students, so comparing overall statistics is not worthwhile.

However, the researchers determined that on average full-time students drink more alcoholic drinks and binge drink more often than part-time students.

Daily Substance Use Among Full-Time Students

Full-time college students drink an average of 6.4 days each month and consume an average of 4.1 drinks on each occasion.

On an average day:

  • 1.2 million full-time students consume alcohol.
  • 703,759 full-time students consume marijuana.
  • 11,338 full-time students consume cocaine.
  • 9,808 full-time students consume hallucinogens.
  • 4,570 full-time students consume heroin.
  • 3,341 full-time students consume inhalants.

Every month, 5.4 million full-time students drink alcohol, 3.5 million binge drink and two million use an illicit drug.

Daily Substance Use Among Part-Time Students

Part-time college students drink an average of 6.4 days each month and consume an average of 3.8 drinks on each occasion.

On an average day:

  • 239,212 part-time students consume alcohol.
  • 195,020 part-time students consume marijuana.
  • 3,629 part-time students consume cocaine.
  • 3,239 part-time students consume hallucinogens.
  • 2,590 part-time students consume heroin.
  • 991 part-time students consume inhalants.

Every month, 1.1 million part-time students drink alcohol, 707,000 binge drink and 448,000 use an illicit drug.

First-Time Substance Use, Full-Time

An estimated 9.9 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drink alcohol for the first time every year, and six percent use an illicit drug for the first time every year.

On an average day:

  • 2,179 full-time students try alcohol for the first time.
  • 1,326 full-time students try any illicit drug for the first time.
  • 1,299 full-time students try marijuana for the first time.
  • 649 full-time students try hallucinogens for the first time.
  • 559 full-time students abuse prescription painkillers for the first time.
  • 447 full-time students try cocaine for the first time.
  • 415 full-time students abuse stimulants for the first time.
  • 166 full-time students try inhalants for the first time.
  • 39 full-time students try methamphetamine for the first time.
  • 19 full-time students try heroin for the first time.

First-Time Substance Use, Part Time

An estimated 8.9 percent of part-time college students ages 18 to 22 drink alcohol for the first time every year, and 3.8 percent use an illicit drug for the first time every year.

On an average day:

  • 453 part-time students try alcohol for the first time.
  • 174 part-time students try any illicit drug for the first time.
  • 153 part-time students try marijuana for the first time.
  • 129 part-time students abuse prescription painkillers for the first time.
  • 117 part-time students try hallucinogens for the first time.
  • 80 part-time students try cocaine for the first time.
  • 53 part-time students try inhalants for the first time.
  • 52 part-time students abuse stimulants for the first time.
  • 19 part-time students try methamphetamine for the first time.
  • 10 part-time students try heroin for the first time.

Young college students are participating in and initiating high-risk behavior while their bodies and brains are still developing. Families, college campuses and communities should promote substance-free activities and educate college students about the consequences of substance abuse regularly.