| College Alcohol Problems Exceed Previous Estimates
The harm caused by alcohol consumption among college students
may exceed previous estimates of the problem. Researchers report
that unintentional fatal injuries related to alcohol increased
from about 1,500 in 1998 to more than 1,700 in 2001 among U.S.
college students aged 18-24. Over the same period national surveys
indicate the number of students who drove under the influence of
alcohol increased by 500,000, from 2.3 million to 2.8 million.
The new findings appear in the 2005 issue of the Annual Review
of Public Health, now online at http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/loi/publhealth.
"This paper underscores what we had learned from another
recent study — that excessive alcohol use by college-aged
individuals in the U.S. is a significant source of harm," said
Ting-Kai Li, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of
"The magnitude of problems posed by excessive drinking among
college students should stimulate both improved measurement of
these problems and efforts to reduce them," added the report's
lead author Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D, Professor at the Boston University
School of Public Health and Center to Prevent Alcohol Problems
Among Young People.
As a member of the NIAAA Task Force on College Drinking, Dr. Hingson
and other researchers reported in 2002 that alcohol contributed
to an estimated 1,400 injury deaths among college students age
18-24 in 1998. A subsequent change in college census methodology
that increased the estimated number of 18-24 year olds who were
college students in 1998 led to an upward revision of that estimate
to about 1,500 deaths. The same methods were used to calculate
the 2001 estimates in the current review article.
Dr. Hingson and colleagues from the Schools of Public Health at
Boston University and Harvard University gathered information about
drinking and its consequences among college students for the year
2001. Their analyses included data from the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and the Harvard College
Alcohol Survey, as well as national coroner studies and census
and college enrollment data for 18-24 year olds. They compared
the 2001 data with similar analyses of 1998 data that they published
"In both 1998 and 2001 more than 500,000 students were unintentionally
injured because of drinking and more than 600,000 were assaulted
by another student who had been drinking," said Dr. Hingson. "We
must remember, however, that since the 18-24 year old non-college
population vastly outnumbers the college population, they actually
account for more alcohol-related problems than do college students.
For example, while 2.8 million college students drove under the
influence of alcohol in 2001, so too did 4.5 million college-aged
persons who were not in college."
Dr. Hingson and his colleagues propose data collection practices
that they believe would improve future analyses of the consequences
of college drinking. For example, they call for alcohol testing
in every injury death in the United States.
"The data already collected on the numbers of alcohol-related
fatal crashes annually in each state has proven invaluable to researchers
seeking to study the effects of state-level legislative interventions
to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths," they note. "Unfortunately,
without comprehensive testing for alcohol and determination of
college student status of all persons who die from falls, drownings,
poisoning, homicide, suicide, and any other kind of injury, we
lack the most dependable yardstick by which to measure the magnitude
of alcohol-related fatal injuries among college students, and whether
this figure is changing over time."
The researchers conclude that greater enforcement of the legal
drinking age of 21 and zero tolerance laws, increases in alcohol
taxes, and wider implementation of screening and counseling programs,
and comprehensive community interventions are among the strategies
that can reduce college drinking and associated harm to students
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a component
of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, conducts and supports approximately 90 percent
of the U.S. research on the causes, consequences, prevention,
and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems
and disseminates research findings to general, professional,
and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information
and publications are available at www.niaaa.nih.gov.