Content Reviewed by Cameron Bolish, M.Ed., CEO of PaRC

Teens and young adults rarely consider their drinking habits to be a topic of concern. For many individuals approaching the age of 21 or who have recently reached the legal drinking age, it seems like an exciting time to explore the effects of alcohol.

College students are surrounded by the pressures to use alcohol and other substances amidst party and nightlife environments. Even the most concerning drinking habits are usually excused in college-aged students because it seems to be “normal” behavior related to their age group. However, it is important to understand that the consequences of alcohol use can be detrimental to anyone at any age.

While some may come to college with pre-established drinking habits, many teens are initially exposed to the dangers of alcohol while they engage with others in college environments. No matter how a person is introduced to the effects of alcohol use, most college-aged students are not aware of the potential dangers and consequences that may result from frequent alcohol intake. Teens and young adults must understand the risks associated with drinking in college to avoid any severe harm to their mental or physical health.

What Is the Difference Between Casual Drinking, Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking?

The biggest concern for college-aged individuals who choose to drink alcohol is their reason for doing so. Like most addictive behaviors, drinking is encouraged and motivated through peer groups. Many college-aged students drink to “fit in” and to experience an altered state of consciousness that is thought to be a normal part of the college experience.

With that being said, rarely do individuals of this age group drink casually. Instead, most college-aged individuals drink to get drunk. Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that, in 2019, nearly 53% of full-time college students drank alcohol in the last month, with 41% of those students reporting engaging in binge drinking or heavy drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that raises blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08%. In general, males tend to reach this BAC by consuming five drinks or more in a span of two hours. Females tend to reach this BAC by consuming four drinks or more in a span of two hours.

For men, heavy drinking is characterized by consuming four or more drinks on any given day or more than 14 drinks total per week. For women, heavy drinking is characterized by consuming more than three drinks on any given day or more than seven drinks total per week. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as engaging in five or more binge drinking episodes in the last month.

It is crucial to recognize that any type of drinking, and consuming any amount of alcohol, is problematic.

How Much Alcohol is Considered One Standard Drink?

To accurately understand what defines a binge drinking episode, you must first understand what is considered one standard drink. It is important to keep in mind that the alcohol content of all alcoholic beverages vary, which means it is not enough to rely on just the amount of alcohol consumed.

In the United States, one standard alcoholic drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, otherwise weighed as 0.6 fluid ounces, which equates to:

  • 12.0 oz of beer with 5% alcohol content
  • 5.0 oz of wine with 12% alcohol content
  • 1.5 oz of pure liquor (gin, rum, tequila, vodka, etc.) with 40% alcohol content

It is safe to say that a shot of liquor is the most dangerous way to consume alcohol, as one shot increases an individual’s BAC the fastest. Ultimately, consuming one shot after another over the course of two hours is a common example of a binge drinking episode.

When Does College Drinking Become a Concern?

While it’s essential to understand what defines binge drinking or heavy drinking, it’s even more crucial to acknowledge the consequences that often follow either of the two. Alcohol-related problems will surface when an individual continues to drink despite the consequences that drinking has on their physical or mental health.

The most significant concern associated with college drinking is the increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or an addiction. The risks increase immediately when a person starts to experiment with other substances, although being surrounded by people who do not put limits on alcohol consumption can further increase risks. Recovery treatment services are readily available for individuals struggling with addiction at any age, especially programs for teens and young adults.

College drinking is not a topic to take lightly. It can wreak havoc on academic performance, increase the risk of injury and sexual assault and lead to many other health issues.

Addiction and chronic substance use can begin with the initial decision to experiment with drugs and alcohol. PaRC (Prevention and Recovery Center) is a substance use and addiction treatment center specializing in providing the highest quality treatment for all ages. Let us help you achieve long-term recovery today. To learn more about our specialized treatment programs, or to hear more about our treatment facility, give us a call at (713) 939-7272.