PRC Resources

College Drinking

Ethnic Differences in the Effect of College on Drinking
Story of Discovery


College students tend to drink frequently and heavily - more so than young people who do not attend college. These drinking patterns can lead to problems for individual students, such as accidental injuries, assaults, unprotected sex, and poor school performance. Heavy drinking also has an impact on other students, subjecting them to disruption of study time and other problems.

Previous studies have found that heavy drinking is more common among white college students than among black, Hispanic, or Asian students. Understanding the nature of drinking among college students and some of the reasons for these ethnic differences may be useful for the development of prevention strategies.


The Current Study

This study examines ethnic differences in relationships between four-year and two-year college attendance and heavy alcohol use. Survey data were collected from 12,993 young adults who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Information was collected about prior heavy drinking in adolescence, selected social and psychological factors, and demographic characteristics. These factors were analyzed to see whether they helped to explain observed relationships between college attendance and heavy alcohol use.


Major Results

White young adults who attend four-year colleges are more likely to drink heavily than non-college whites of the same age. They were also less likely to drink heavily than white students in two-year colleges. By contrast, young blacks and Asians in four-year colleges are less likely to drink heavily. Black and Hispanic students in two-year colleges are also less likely to drink heavily than their non-college peers.

Some of the reasons white four-year college students drink heavily are because they are away from home and parental supervision. Heavy drinking students tend to spend more time with friends and to have friends who drink heavily. Black college students may drink less because they are more conventional and less emotionally distressed than young black adults not in college. In contrast, heavy drinking among whites coincides with a more conventional lifestyle.


The Take-Home Message

Heavy drinking among college students is a serious problem. The factors that influence college drinking are different for students with different ethnic backgrounds. Increasing our knowledge about these factors may help us find better ways of preventing heavy drinking and related problems.


The Reference

The full study can be found in Paschall, M.J., Bersamin, M., & Flewelling, R.L. (2005). Racial/ethnic differences in the association between college attendance and heavy alcohol use: A national study. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 66, 266-274.