Among 18- to 24-year-olds, which would you guess drinks more: the college students, or the non-college students?
On the one hand, college campuses are notorious for binge drinking – students are out on their own for the first time without supervision, and partying is an easy way to meet new people.
On the other hand, those who don't go to college don't have homework (more free nights) or student loans (more booze money).
If you guessed college students drink less, you're correct.
A new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found the rate of binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks on an occasion at least once in the last 30 days – is falling among college students.
But the rate is rising among adults in the same age group (18-24) who don't go to college.
A closer look
This research on binge drinking began in 1998 when the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) decided to examine problems related to college drinking and identify possible solutions.
At first, the rates of college binge drinking were rising. From 1999 to 2005, the percentage of college students who reported binge drinking increased from 42 percent to 45 percent. But then it declined to 37 percent by 2014, the study says.
Meanwhile, for those in the same age group but not enrolled in college, binge drinking increased from 36 percent to 40 percent between 1999 and 2014.
The study also found that alcohol-related overdose hospitalizations and overdose deaths have increased for 18- to 24-year-olds overall.
Even though the rates are down for college students, 37 percent is still kind of high, and the problems that go along with it – like drunk driving and accidental deaths – can be devastating.
Researchers say there's still a need to expand individually oriented interventions, college and community programs, and evidence-supported policies to reduce these issues.
Why are college students drinking less?
Researchers have a few theories.
Task force member Ralph Hingson told Medical Xpress it might have to do with college administrators' increasing awareness about problematic drinking, and them helping out with interventions. (Non-college adults wouldn't have that same resource.)
Hingson named two other possible factors: the economic recession of 2008 (less disposable income means less money to buy alcohol) and states (such as Minnesota in 2005) adopting the 0.08 percent blood alcohol limit.