Prevalence of heavy episodic drinking and alcohol use disorder diagnosis among US college students: results from the national Healthy Minds Study

Ranker & Lipson / Addictive Behaviors / December 2022

Diverse group of students drinking beer at a local bar

Alcohol use is a common, recognized problem on college campuses. This study examined alcohol use in a national sample of US college students across 78 campuses. Using four waves of data from the Healthy Minds Study (2015–2019), we explored variations by student demographics in prevalence of recent: alcohol consumption, heavy episodic drinking (HED, 4/5 + drinks in one sitting), frequent HED (3 + HED events), and lifetime alcohol use disorder (AUD) diagnosis. Stratified analyses and logistic regression with response propensity weights were used. Two-thirds of students consumed alcohol and roughly-one-third engaged in HED in the past 2 weeks. Alcohol use was more common among students who: identified as cis women/men, bisexual or gay/lesbian/queer, white non-Hispanic, lived in Greek housing or off-campus, were not first generation, or those not rating religion as important. Prevalence of HED among recent drinkers was high (56.7%) but varied by gender identity, race-ethnicity, living situation, and religiosity. In addition, higher HED prevalence was reported among: international, undergraduate, and underage (under 21) students. There was little variation in HED by sexual orientation identity or first generation status among recent drinkers. In a sub-sample of students engaging in frequent HED, AUD diagnosis was uncommon (1.4%) and less likely among students identifying as: cis women/men, heterosexual, racial-ethnic minorities (particularly Asian/Asian American or Pacific Islander), international, religious, or living in Greek housing. Alcohol use continues to be a part of college life, while screening and treatment remains rare. There are opportunities for improved programming and outreach acknowledging college student diversity.