Why Do College Students Drink Alcohol?

why do college students drink

58 percent of college students between the ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month, according to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). That's a lot of alcohol consumption considering most of that age group is under the legal drinking age.

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Excessive drinking, also known as binge drinking, is defined as drinking at least five drinks in just a few hours and it's prevalent among college students.

37.9 percent of college students ages 18-22 reported binge drinking in the past month. We know there are scary consequences of binge drinking in college, but why do college students drink in the first place?

Why Do College Students Drink?

For many students, college is the time of new experiences, new challenges, and new responsibilities. This can be both exciting and overwhelming, which may help explain why college students drink so much.

There are a few common reasons why college students drink.

  • Friendship
  • Social Belonging
  • Boredom
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Stress Relief
  • Lowering Inhibitions

Let's take a closer look ...


Starting your first year of college may be an exciting idea, but some students may become anxious by the thought of a new beginning. It's not uncommon for students to go to different colleges than the friends they knew in high school, which create feelings of discomfort.

For this reason, students may be both eager and nervous about making new friends.

One of alcohol’s main characteristics is that it is a relaxant. It relaxes your nerves and unfortunately, your ability to make good decisions. It even relaxes speech and motor skills. All this relaxing leads to false confidence that encourages people to open up socially.

Social Belonging

Students leave the comfort and security of home and jump into a world that is new, a world where they oversee their life and have the freedom to do as they please. What pleases them most, however, is to fit in with their peers.

Some students want to fit in with the college crowd that avoids alcohol and participates in positive campus activities. Others want to fit in with the party crowds who seem to be having a lot more fun. Appearances can be deceiving.

Peer pressure can lead some students to accept the offer to drink alcohol in order to be a part of a group.


Not all students can develop plans and seek out positive adventures when they start to feel bored. Boredom can lead to them joining in with other bored students who convince them that drinking is a great form of entertainment.

Alcohol can provide a temporary feeling of fun and excitement. But there are far more disadvantages to excessive drinking. Over-drinking can put students in dangerous situations such as being secretly drugged, sexual assaults and even legal issues like driving under the influence charges.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

People, of all ages, fear missing out on

They want to create their own “war stories” from college they can laugh about with other people. They think this is part of the college culture and they want to experience everything they can from this culture.

They want to be able to look back on their college life with friends and discuss the wild and crazy activities they did, the ones that make them confused as to how they are still alive. This can be especially true among clubs and groups who form a bond through drinking activities.

Fraternities, sororities, and other clubs plan events that specifically involve alcohol. It is in the club’s history.

Stress Relief

If you think college students do not have much stress, you are wrong. ABC News reports every 3 out of 4 students report they feel stressed so much that they have thought about suicide. This is alarming. And since stress can lead to both physical and mental ailments, it is something that needs to be addressed.

To alleviate some of their stress, students often turn to alcohol because of its relaxant effects. Alcohol has been known to take the edge off anxiety and nervousness. What they don’t realize is that alcohol and its after-effects add to the stress they experience.

Stressors such as maintaining good grades, balancing work and school, peer pressure, workloads given by teachers, scholarship and grant requirements, and even self-pressure are some of the reasons students choose to drink alcohol.

Lowering Inhibitions

College can be a time where students are beginning to express themselves more sexually. They may think opening sexually will help them find themselves or satisfy some need. They may be pressured by a boyfriend or girlfriend to become more active sexually.

Whatever the reason, some students feel drinking alcohol allows them to become less inhibited and makes them feel sexier. The dangers of mixing alcohol and sex far outweigh any benefits.

Drinking too much alcohol can put students in a situation where they may be pressured to have sex. They may even make a poor decision to engage in a sexual act with someone they wouldn't normally engage with while sober.

Balance through Positive Support and Mentoring

College may be a time of new experiences, challenges, and responsibilities, but students with positive support will find balance and enjoy a fulfilling college experience. Many colleges have sober living residences on campus and mentoring programs available to students interested in connecting with like-minded peers.

These mentoring programs offer students a connection to the resources they need to strive for academic success without leaving college.

Some colleges also offer outpatient treatment centers for students struggling to maintain their grades due to problems with substance use. These can be remarkably helpful for students who want to get back on track to achieving their goals but need professional help and support.

Life in college may be challenging, but students who have the right support and mentoring from peers and professionals will be prepared to face any new challenge they encounter as they make their way toward their goals.

Photo by bruce mars