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College Drinking: Advice to Send Back to Campus 

January 10, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Michael Bihari, MD

In several weeks your college-aged children will be heading back to school. Whether or not your son or daughter drinks alcohol, virtually all college students experience the effects of college drinking. As mentioned in a recent article from the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks.

Consequences of drinking include death and injury from alcohol poisoning and motor vehicle accidents, assaults and sexual abuse, unsafe sex, academic problems, alcohol dependence, depression and suicide attempts, property damage, and involvement with law enforcement.

And, with winter upon us, the dreaded (by parents and college administrators anyway) spring break is not very far away. 

As a New Year’s present send your college student back to school with some useful information that may help her stay safe and may save the life of one of his friends, dorm mates, or fraternity brothers. 

What Is “Binge Drinking?”

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, many college alcohol problems are related to binge drinking. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dL. This usually occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours. Think about your son or daughter attending a party and joining in a “shot-drinking” contest to see who can down the most shots in a row!

Drinking this way can pose serious health and safety risks, including alcohol poisoning that can cause brain damage or death. Over the long term, frequent binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs.

How Much Is a Drink?

To avoid binge drinking and its dangerous consequences, anyone who drinks (including underage college students and adults) are advised to track the number of drinks they consume over a given period of time.

What counts as a drink? In the United States, a standard drink is one that contains about 14 grams of “pure” alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer, which is usually about 5 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol

Although the standard drink amounts are helpful for following government recommended health guidelines, they often do not reflect usual serving sizes, particularly in a college environment. A large cup of beer, an over-poured glass of wine, or a single mixed drink could contain much more alcohol than a standard drink.

Alcohol Poisoning: Being a Good Samaritan

Thousands of college students are transported to the emergency room each year for alcohol poisoning, which occurs when high levels of alcohol suppress the nervous and respiratory systems and the body struggles to rid itself of toxins produced from the breakdown of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning also kills hundreds of college-aged students every year.

Signs of alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or the person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Hypothermia or low body temperature, bluish or pale skin

To prevent permanent brain damage or death, anyone showing any of these signs requires immediate medical attention. Do not wait. Call 911 if you suspect alcohol poisoning.

Many students with alcohol poisoning do not get immediate help because fellow party-goers are afraid that they will get into trouble if they call for help. Have a discussion about this with your college-bound kid, it may help save a life. Many colleges have amnesty programs and your son or daughter will not get into trouble if they call for help.

Recommended Resource

MedlinePlus provides access to reliable information for you and your college-age child:

  • College Health
  • Underage Drinking

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