Key Researchers


Overview of Binge Drinking on College Campuses and in Communities


Traci L. Toomey, Ph.D., Toben F. Nelson, Sc.D., and Kathleen Lenk, M.P.H., School of Public Health, University of Minnesota

Review Panel: Henry Wechsler, Ph.D., Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., Dept. of Social Sciences and Health Policy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Mark Wood, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Rhode Island
Introduction: Binge drinking is a significant public health problem, contributing to problems such as traffic crashes, violence, sexually transmitted infections, and several types of cancer. It is a common pattern of heavy alcohol use, characterized by individuals drinking a large amount of alcohol on one occasion. One common definition of binge drinking used in surveys is consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks for women, typically in the past two weeks or in the past month (Johnston et al., 2009a; SAMHSA, 2009; Wechsler et al., 1995a). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently defined binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours (NIAAA, 2004)."

Binge drinking is a particular public health concern among individuals under the minimum legal drinking age of 21 and among young adults (Naimi et al., 2003). In 2008, 25% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in the past two weeks (Johnston et al., 2009a). Binge drinking rates among traditional college students aged 18-24 are considerably higher - 40% of college students report binge drinking in the past two weeks, and these rates have stayed fairly stable over the past two decades (Grucza et al., 2009; Johnston et al., 2009b; Nelson et al, 2009; Wechsler et al., 2002b). Binge drinking is a typical pattern of alcohol use among young people aged 18-24. Approximately half of those who use alcohol in this age group can be characterized as binge drinkers (Johnston et al., 2009a; 2009b; Naimi et al., 2003; Wechsler et al., 2002c). Among college students who binge drink frequently (three times or more in a two-week period), most meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence (Knight et al., 2002).

Date Updated :
Original Date: Mar. 2010

Traci L. Toomey, Ph.D., Toben F. Nelson, Sc.D., and Kathleen Lenk, M.P.H.; Binge Drinking on College Campuses and in Communities Knowledge Asset, Web site created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program; March 2010.,

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