Heavy/binge drinking among college students has become a major public health problem. There is consistent evidence suggesting that young adults in college are drinking more than their non–college-attending peers, but it is still not clear whether they are more likely to suffer from clinically significant alcohol use disorders.
To compare the prevalence of alcohol use disorders and alcohol use disorder symptoms in college-attending young adults with their non–college-attending peers within the same study in a large and representative US national sample.
Civilian, noninstitutionalized US population.
Young adults (n = 6352) from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (19-21 years of age, 51% female, 66% white, 14% African American, 14% Hispanic).
Main Outcome Measures
Lifetime, past-year, and past-month drinking, past-year and past-month weekly drinking, past-month weekly binge drinking, past-month daily drinking, typical quantity consumed in the past month, and past-year DSM-IV alcohol dependence and abuse diagnoses.
Eighteen percent of US college students (24% of men, 13% of women) suffered from clinically significant alcohol-related problems in the past year, compared with 15% of their non–college-attending peers (22% of men, 9% of women; overall odds ratio = 1.32). The association between past-year alcohol use disorder and college attendance was stronger among women (odds ratio = 1.70) than men (odds ratio = 1.14). College students were more likely to receive a diagnosis of DSM-IV alcohol abuse than their peers not attending college; despite the fact that those in college were drinking more, they were not more likely to receive a diagnosis of DSM-IV alcohol dependence.
College students suffer from some clinically significant consequences of their heavy/binge drinking, but they do not appear to be at greater risk than their non–college-attending peers for the more pervasive syndrome of problems that is characteristic of alcohol dependence.