Psychiatric Conditions and Alcohol Abuse in the College-Aged

I always find epidemiological studies very interesting because they can give you a snapshot of the prevalence of certain conditions. Have you ever wondered about the prevalence of psychiatric conditions and alcohol use disorders among college students? This is a topic that has been studied extensively by many different research groups.

Recently, an article was published about this topic by a group of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and it caught my attention. According to a series of over 40,0000 interviews conducted in the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), almost half of college-aged individuals had a psychiatric disorder in the past year. What was very interesting about this survey was that college students had a greater risk of alcohol use disorder compared to non-college students in the same age group.

AlcoholDoes this mean that you’re likely to run into life-long alcohol problems by going to college? Well, not necessarily. Let’s see why. If you read the study that was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, you’ll find that when the authors adjusted that risk by taking into account factors such as background sociodemographics, the risk for alcohol misuse between the college and non-college groups was roughly the same. However, college students were significantly less likely to have a diagnosis of drug use disorder or nicotine dependence. We all know that college students are surrounded by enormous peer pressure and parties. In fact, fatalities from alcohol intoxication are not too uncommon. Why aren’t college students seeking help if they have alcohol use disorders? Many of them probably fail to recognize the severity of the problem.

So what’s the bottom line? The conclusion of this paper reads:

Psychiatric disorders, particularly alcohol use disorders, are common in the college-aged population.

Most people probably already know this, so what did this paper tell us? We all know that many college students misuse alcohol and drugs. This often leads to life-long dependence problems and other serious mental health disorders. These researchers noted that many college students are not seeking professional help for their mental health problems. Treatment rates for alcohol misuse remain low and this underscores the need for public health initiatives aimed at both college students and their non-college-attending peers. People need to be reminded that no one is immune from the dangers of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. The social stigmas associated with substance use may prevent people from seeking professional help, so this remains yet another barrier for people.

Alcohol misuse remains a significant public health problem in this country. There is tremendous need for interventions aimed at reducing alcohol abuse, especially in the college-aged population. The authors of this paper note that skills-based interventions, motivational interviewing, and personalized normative feedback are all effective ways to reduce drinking in college students.


C. Blanco, M. Okuda, C. Wright, D. S. Hasin, B. F. Grant, S.-M. Liu, M. Olfson (2008). Mental Health of College Students and Their Non-College-Attending Peers: Results From the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions Archives of General Psychiatry, 65 (12), 1429-1437 DOI: 10.1001/archpsyc.65.12.1429

  • Great article. As a student (of legal drinking age) I am well aware of the presence alcohol has on the college campus. Universities around the country have made attempts to eliminate ‘college drinking’ but most will fail. This is not due to the lack of planning but the rebellious nature of college students who are unwilling to part with the ‘right-of-passage’ one receives when leaving home and entering the world of adulthood (college).

    I feel that alcohol use at colleges should not be eliminated, lets face it – it’s a downhill battle. Instead, I feel programs should be implemented to teach college students about the risks of alcohol abuse. The short and long term effects of binge drinking, and provide young adults with alternatives to this college phenomenon.

    We here at Poolside Pong have always been active in promoting responsible drinking to our customers and at events. There is no reason that a person of legal age must fear or be looked down upon for wanting to partake in the popular game of Beer Pong – which through the years of college fraternity stories, has received a bad reputation. Beer Pong is in fact a very social sport. It connects people in a friendly, competitive manner. Many bonds have been created during or around a beer pong or poolside pong table.

    We here at Poolside Pong suggest the sport for active, responsible adults. We offer the suggestion of playing one round of pong with an alcoholic beverage, then substituting the next round for a non-alcoholic beverage. Play in rotations; have at least 2 teams for each side and take turns. This, and the use of non-alcoholic beverages will allow you to better digest your alcohol and replenish your fluids. You’ll be surprised how much your shot improves using this method also!

    Play and Drink Responsibly.

    Poolside Pong

    • I have fully understand your point of view but there is a new situation regarding this issue.

  • We all know that strict prohibition won’t work. If anything, it may even backfire and cause greater problems like it did in the 1920’s.

    I think if the right type of public health is delivered in colleges, then students will listen and think about the potential consequences. Strong interventions need to start in high school and we need to involve more celebrities. Unfortunately, the message that the public receives is that celebrities often get involved with DUIs and are heavy users of alcohol. This is the wrong message for our teens and college aged adults.

  • Pingback: Rich Life Carnival #23 | Rich Life Carnival()

  • Pingback: pinkblocks - personal power and self help » Blog Carnival on Personal Power January 1, 2009()

  • It was very interesting about this survey was that college students had a greater risk of alcohol use disorder compared to non-college students in the same age group.

  • Makayla Russell

    I find that alcohol has a better effect on my blood sugars than anything
    else, including oral anti-hyperglycemic medications?
    . I know the effect alcohol has on the liver but is there any other
    reason why alcohol effects blood sugars this way?

  • Ewan

    Parents who are authoritarian also believe that their
    word is law and do not tolerate disagreement. is manifest as temper tantrums, active defiance of
    rules, dawdling, argumentativeness, stubbornness, or being easily annoyed (p.
    Parents are encouraged to start preparing students before the senior
    year in high school.

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH, is a physician, engineer, technologist, and avid writer. He enjoys writing about advances in technology that are revolutionizing healthcare. Dr. Kim studied engineering at MIT, then received his medical degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He also has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health.

See All Posts By The Author

Do not miss out ever again. Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered to your inbox a few times a month.