Prevalence of Alcohol Abuse among College Students in the U.S.

Alcohol abuse among students has been recognized as a core challenge facing colleges and universities in the United States. For instance, in a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 40 percent of students attending college on a full-time basis were noted to engage in binge drinking, defined as a consumption of 5 or more drinks within a couple of hours for males or four or more for females (2006, n.p.). Even when heavy alcohol drinking (consumption of five of more drinks within a couple of hours, for at least every of five days within a period of 30 days prior to the analysis), was considered, 16.6 percent students attending college on a full-time basis were found to be heavy alcohol abusers (2006, n.p.). Such high rate of alcohol abuse (above 40 percent), has also been reported by a study that assessed alcohol consumption in a community college, in a Mid-Western state, by students aged 17 to 24 years (Wall, BaileyShea & McIntosh, 2012).

Other studies have reinforced such high rates of alcohol abuse among college students. For instance, in a study by Knight et al. (2002), out of a sample of 14,115 students, excluding 2.1 percent who were found to meet the DSM-IV criteria for dependence, 31.6 percent met the criteria specified by DSM-IV for alcohol abuse (p. 265). DSM-IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it is currently in its fourth edition. The approach for diagnosing alcohol abuse involves the subject depicting at least one of four criteria – role impairment (e.g. failure to perform school or work obligations), alcohol use-related legal problems, social problems resulting from and exacerbated by alcohol use and hazardous use (potential for physical injury e.g. drunk driving) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In the study by Knight et al. (2002), of the sample used, 20.5 percent met any one criterion, 10.0 percent met any two criteria, 2.9 percent met any three criteria, and 0.3 percent met all the four criteria specified by DSM-IV for alcohol abuse (p. 265). Such findings of rates of alcohol abuse among college students were comparatively higher than those reported (4.65 percent) for adult American population over the same period (Grant et al., 2004, p. 227).

In another study that compared the prevalence rates of alcohol abuse among four groups of youth aged 18 to 22, using data from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), students attending college on a full-time basis were found to have the highest prevalence rate – 12.5 percent ( Wu, Pilowsky, Schlenger & Hasin, 2007, p. 194). Of the four groups – students on a full-time attendance scheme, part-time attendance scheme, non-college students and nonstudents – non-college students (students at a lower grade level than college) had the lowest 12-month prevalence rate (9.1 percent), with the part-time students having the second lowest rate (9.9%) (Wu et al., 2007, p. 194). The nonstudents, those not in school, had slightly lower prevalence rate (11.0%) compared to the full-time college students, although both rates were not statistically different. The finding that full-time students have more cases of alcohol abuse has also been reinforced by the study by Wall, BaileyShea and McIntosh (2012). Taken together, the studies on prevalence of alcohol abuse among college students indicate the rising challenge of alcohol abuse for students attending colleges especially for students attending college on a full-time basis.

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