Animal House Revisited: The Dangers of Binge Drinking in College

It’s a scene straight out of a movie — parties, drinking, students passed out on the front lawn of a frat house. Unfortunately, however, this scene is not so much a comedy as it is a tragedy.

A recent study from the University of Washington found that binge drinking  in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area has increased nearly 30 percent in the last decade, and Santa Clara County saw a rise of 36 percent, which is the greatest increase in the country. Students from Stanford to UCSF to Berkeley and back are likely riding the alcohol wave. The researchers point out that the spike in binge drinking is partially attributable to two factors: an increase in drinking among women and an influx of young tech professionals who work hard and play hard.

One might ask what the big deal is. After all, “college” and “drunken partying” seem to be all but synonymous, right? Actually, the portrayal by movies and the media of binge drinking as consequence-free fun is quite far from the truth. Binge drinking can have numerous disastrous effects:

  • Because the increase in binge drinking has been tied partly to women, women are likely to experience greater risk of harm. Women are physiologically different from men, with a  lower average muscle-mass-to-body-weight ratio than men, and so their bodies process alcohol differently. Women drinking to “keep up with” their male friends expose themselves to alcohol-related injuries, organ damage, alcohol poisoning, and even an increased risk of sexual or physical assault.
  • The other major group associated with the increase in binge drinking is young tech professionals. Because of the fast-paced and high-stress nature of the tech world, these individuals are likely drinking to relieve stress. This behavior can be the express lane to alcohol-related injuries, organ damage, and problems with alcoholism and alcohol addiction.
  • As rates of binge drinking increase, rates of alcohol-related overdose, car accidents, violence, theft, vandalism, and a host of other problems are likely to increase as well both on- and off-campus. At the very least, binge drinking can prevent students from keeping up with their classwork and can stop their careers before they even start.
  • Binge drinking in college can also set up students for lifelong problems with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Though not all students who binge drink during college go on to struggle with alcoholism, binge drinking at the very least does not help improve their chances of avoiding alcohol use problems later in life.

For many people, college is a powerful period of personal growth, academic learning, life learning, and exploring one’s personal identity and values. As rates of binge drinking increase across the Bay area, it is important for students to remember that college is only the beginning of their careers and adult lives. Just as they are building a strong academic foundation for their vocations, it is wise to also remember to build a strong foundation with respect to habits and behaviors around drinking. It is worth it to keep the animal out of the house.

**For the purposes of the study, “binge drinking” means five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women on a single occasion.