Stress-Related Drinking in College Students

stress-related drinking in college students

April is Stress Awareness Month and Alcohol Awareness Month, an opportune time to examine the connection between stress and alcohol. For college students, this is also a time of excitement and anxiety. They have been through many challenges and are looking toward finishing up their year at school. They also need to be aware of the consequences of stress-related drinking in college students, especially how it may impact their health and their success in school and in life.

The Stress of College

Young people who head off to college are going to a completely new environment and a new situation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges of going to college can be even greater. During “normal” times, college can be stressful enough. Researchers have found that between 75% and 80% of all college students report being “moderately stressed and between 10% and 12% report being “severely stressed.”

College students are transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood and are trying to establish their own identities. Add to this the challenge of living independently for the first time and balancing academic demands with new relationships and existing family demands. Each of these factors can be stressful in themselves and the stress is certainly compounded for most college students.

Drinking in College

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 54.9% of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the past month, with 36.9% engaging in binge drinking and 9.6% engaging in heavy alcohol use (defined as binge drinking on five or more days during the month). These rates of binge drinking and heavy alcohol use are higher for college students than for those not attending college.

Stress-Related Drinking

A study conducted by Penn State researchers found that the more students drank to cope with their stress, rather than for fun or celebration, the higher their risk for experiencing problems with alcohol. The goal of the study was to determine how stress affected the students’ alcohol consumption.

Students participating in the study completed daily diary entries about their stress and drinking levels for two weeks each semester. They responded to questions about whether they had experienced stressors during the day, the cause of the stress, and whether they drank that day, including how many drinks they had.

The researchers found that the odds of a student drinking went up by 8% with each additional stressor. The amount they drank increased by 4%. On the days that the students reported no stressors but still drank, they had an average of 4.8 drinks. On days that they reported six stressors, they had an average of 5.9 drinks. An average of 15.7% of the daily entries were noted as drinking days, and those days also met the criteria for heavy drinking. The results indicated that stress-related drinking was prevalent among these participants.

The study also served as an indicator that stress-related drinking predicted future problems with alcohol for these students. They found that students whose odds of drinking increased the most with high-stressor days also had the most problems with alcohol by their fourth year of college. A total of 54 students, or 8.9%, of the participants showed a high risk for alcohol problems in their fourth year.

Consequences of Drinking in College

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) statistics indicate that drinking by college students contributes to 1,519 student deaths each year. In addition, there are an estimated 696,000 assaults by students who had been drinking and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year associated with college drinking.

Other consequences include academic difficulties, such as getting behind in schoolwork or missing classes. While most students stress over being successful in their studies and may experience stress-related drinking as a result, drinking can actually cause them to perform more poorly on a project or test.

Health problems, injuries, suicide attempts, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, damage, and involvement with the police have also been noted as consequences of drinking in college. In addition, about 9% of full-time students between the ages of 18 and 22 met the criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to a 2019 survey.

Gender-Specific Alcohol Addiction Treatment

When you have developed an alcohol addiction and want to stop drinking, we are here for you. We will work with you to help you identify the underlying causes of your addiction, including stress factors associated with your drinking. Detox and supervised withdrawal will help you safely process the mental and physical symptoms so you can move forward with a healthy recovery.

If you are struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, please contact PACE Recovery Center to learn more about our programs and services. We offer gender-specific treatment for men who have a desire to turn their life around. Recovery is possible, and we can help.