Background: Underage alcohol use is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in adolescents and young adults. This study examined drinking levels and ensuing problems among college students and factors associated with binge drinking.
Method: The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study conducted a self-administered survey. The participants include a random sample of 7061 students aged <21 years (defined as underage drinkers), and 4989 between ages 21 and 23 in 1997 at 116 nationally representative 4-year colleges in 39 states. The outcomes of the study include self-reports of alcohol use, binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more for women at least once in a 2-week period), alcohol-related problems, preferred type of drink, access to alcohol, and price paid per drink.
Results: Underage students drink less often but have more drinks per occasion, are more likely to drink in private settings (off-campus, dormitory, and fraternity parties), and pay less per drink than do of-age students. Correlates of underage binge drinking include residence in a fraternity or sorority (odds ratio [OR]=6.2), very easy access to alcohol (OR=3.3), obtaining drinks at lower prices (OR=2.1, for under $1 each or a set fee for unlimited drinks), and drinking beer (OR=9.5).
Conclusions: Effective controls on price, access, and fraternity and off-campus parties, and reinforcing minimum drinking age laws are needed to reduce the high levels of binge drinking and related health and behavioral problems of underage students.