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June 3, 1992

'Binge' Drinkers at Massachusetts CollegesPrevalence, Drinking Style, Time Trends, and Associated Problems

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Health and Social Behavior (Dr Wechsler) and the Injury Control Center (Dr Isaac), Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1992;267(21):2929-2931. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480210091038

Objective.  —To compare drinking patterns among college freshmen with those found among students at similar schools 12 years ago, and to describe in detail the differences between "binge" drinkers and "nonbinge" drinkers.

Design.  —Mailed survey.

Setting.  —Fourteen 4-year colleges in Massachusetts.

Participants.  —A total of 1669 first-year college students.

Main Outcome Measures.  —The survey instrument contains a variety of self-report measures of drinking behaviors, attitudes, and consequences. "Binge" drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks on one or more occasions in the past 2 weeks.

Main Results.  —The proportion of "frequent-heavy" drinkers remained constant between the 1977 and 1989 surveys (30% vs 31% of men; 13% vs 14% of women), but today's students get intoxicated more often and are more motivated to drink to get drunk. The proportion of students who said "to get drunk" was a "somewhat" or "very important" reason for drinking was two to three times as high in 1989 as in 1977. Among students surveyed in 1989, binge drinkers drank greater quantities, with greater regularity, and experienced more intoxication and alcohol-associated problems than did nonbinge drinkers. Close to half of the binge drinkers (46.5% of men, 48.3% of women) were drunk twice or more in the past month, compared with 5% or fewer of the nonbinge drinkers.

Conclusions.  —The stability over time of the prevalence of frequent heavy drinking among college students indicates an apparent failure of both social and institutional policies to alter this behavior. Binge drinkers in particular appear to be a population whose drinking patterns and attitudes place them and those around them at increased risk for adverse consequences.(JAMA. 1992;267:2929-2931)