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Consequences Of Drinking

Risks and Benefits

Research has found that college students are in fact able to distinguish between positive risk-taking and dangerous risk-taking. This leaves many parents wondering why their student would choose to participate in a behavior such as drinking, when he or she is aware of the potential for negative outcomes.

Students situate risk-taking in the "college culture", an environment in which they are independent and often spending significantly less time with their parents then they did in high school. While students recognize the potential risks associated with participating in different behaviors, such as alcohol use, the risk of loss is typically outweighed by the potential benefits. Aware of the potential risks and benefits, students typically describe making deliberate decisions to participate in potentially risky behaviors. When deciding whether or not to participate in a potentially dangerous behavior, students also consider whether or not they were willing to accept a negative outcome if it did occur. Overwhelmingly, students describe their risk-taking as "successful". Each behavior and experience provides an opportunity for learning and growth, even if it's learning that you made the wrong choice (Dworkin, 2005).

 Student: "Umm, well when you drink too much, you know, it can you know screw up my relationship with my girlfriend and screwed that up because it umm, got me in trouble because I was underage. It got me in trouble once in where I used to live in a small town near here and uh once down here, and uh, expensive spent a lotta money on it, uh, you get in trouble it's even more money uh, that'd be about it. That's about it."

Potential Consequences

Many college students simply do not understand the potential consequences of heavy drinking. They are surprised when they're told that vomiting and passing out are not a normal outcome for drinking, and they don't understand the dangers of alcohol poisoning. They fail to notify authorities when a friend passes out, thinking, "I've seen people way more wasted than that."

The peer atmosphere of drinking with friends leads them to keep up with one another, drink by drink. Although different students have different tolerance levels, based on height, weight, gender, or ability to synthesize alcohol, they feel compelled to drink equivalent amounts. It can be a source of embarrassment for a student to get sick after a couple of beers while his friends can drink a six-pack with no obvious effect.

Students rely on their friends to watch over them when they have had too much to drink. Unfortunately, they may be entrusting their life to friends who will choose to overlook a serious situation. In the 2012 College Health Survey, Minnesota students were asked, "If a person 'passed out' from alcohol/drug use and you cannot wake them up, how likely is it you would call 911?"

Response All Students No alcohol in past 30 days Used alcohol within past 30 days
Very likely 69% 74.8% 65.7%
Somewhat likely 20.0% 16.8% 21.8%
Somewhat unlikely 7.1% 4.9% 8.3%
Very unlikely 3.9% 3.4% 4.2%

The University urges students to be alert to the condition of their friends and call for help immediately if they observe any of the following:

Minnesota has a Medical Amnesty law that grants underage drinkers protection from minor consumption citations if they call 911 in a medical emergency.

If your student suspects a friend has a drinking problem, direct your student to the "Additional Resources" section of this course.

Health and Safety Factors

Given a list of 19 negative consequences, ranging from mild to severe, students reported considerably more negative experiences after drinking, and especially after having six or more drinks. Consequences included effects such as

Those who drink heavily (more than five drinks in a single sitting) experience considerably more negative consequences than those who do not engage in high risk drinking.

Average Number of Negative Consequences Related to High Risk Drinking:

Minnesota students who engage in high-risk drinking 14.1
Minnesota students who do not engage in high-risk drinking 3.4

Alcohol use also increases students' urge to smoke, and can result in a student using other drugs, such as marijuana, and having unprotected sex. The consequences of binge drinking impact every student, whether your student chooses to drink or not. Find more information about the consequences of binge drinking here.

Combining Alcohol and Medication

Students don't always recognize the danger of combining alcohol with medications they may be taking. They may not understand that a prescribed medication can reduce tolerance levels for alcohol, and they risk major health consequences by adding beer or liquor to their system when they're also taking medications. Moreover, students who do recognize that medications can affect tolerance levels may purposely take medications with alcohol in order to induce a faster, more significant high, failing to take into account the risk of overdosing.

A particularly dangerous drug and alcohol combination involves Rohypnol or GHB, the so-called date rape drugs. These odorless, tasteless drugs, dissolved in alcohol, leave a person confused, unconscious, or otherwise unable to resist a sexual assault. They also can result in severe health consequences, including permanent memory loss and death.

The standard advice for students includes:

You can find out more information on combining alcohol and medication and on date rape drugs at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sexual Assaults

The majority of sexual assaults on any college campus are related in some way to alcohol use. Either the perpetrator or the victim/survivor - or both - have been drinking before the assault. Excessive alcohol consumption can make a person either violent or passive; alcohol can interfere with a person's ability to communicate intentions or desires. It impairs judgment. Students need to understand that "If a person is intoxicated, they cannot legally give their consent to have sex."

Most sexual assaults on campus are also committed by acquaintances. Students tend to trust others who are "like them" in most obvious ways. Living on campus, they often spend time with others of the same age, same general background, and with similar interests. As they drink together, their self-protection instincts can be dulled, and they may not see warning signs about harmful intentions until too late.

Academic Performance and Drinking

Students who drink heavily are more likely than their non-drinking peers to do poorly on tests, miss classes after a drinking episode, have a lower grade point average, and drop out of school. After a night of drinking, 23.5 percent of students report having performed poorly on a test or other project, and 29.5 percent report having missed class.

This table describes results from a national survey that looks at the relationship between the average number of drinks consumed per week by college students and grade point average.

Current data for grades and binge drinking:

Frequency of binge drinking GPA
0 3.19
1 3.11
2 3.06
3-5 3.04
6-9 2.98
10+ 2.95

The typical assumption is that drinking is a temporary reprieve from studying and working. "After the weekend, I'll get back to work, but I deserve a break now." Research indicates, however, that the results of a bout of heavy drinking can affect a person's ability to think critically for up to 30 days.

Alcohol and Debt

Excessive use of alcohol can result in problems with money management, including late payment or nonpayment of bills, high credit card debt, and/or frequent money shortages. Be alert to these warning signs and ask specific questions concerning your student's alcohol use.

One study of college students found that credit card debt was higher among alcohol users than non-users. 28.0 percent of alcohol users had a credit card debt over $1000, while only 18.3 percent of non-alcohol users had a credit card debt over $1000.

Legal Factors

Unfortunately, when students are making decisions about drinking, they rarely consider the short- and long-term legal or financial consequences of having an alcohol violation on their police, court, and criminal record. Students who are in possession of false identification can be charged with a misdemeanor. That can carry a fine, time in jail, or both. If the student presents a false ID to a police officer, they may be charged with providing false information to the police. Anyone who provides alcohol to minors will face serious gross misdemeanor charges, which carry extreme consequences, and those charges are not likely to be negotiable.

Students have lost jobs because they have a misdemeanor on their record. Some landlords do a background check on potential renters, and they may decline to rent to someone with alcohol violations. Many apartment rental contracts specify that a single alcohol offense can result in a rent increase. Students living in on-campus housing can lose their room or apartment.

Students with a police record who are applying to graduate programs may find their acceptance delayed while the school investigates further. Some professional jobs will not be available at all if a student has a record.

Those who are found guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI) begin by losing their driving privileges. Their auto insurance rates are likely to skyrocket, or they may lose their auto insurance coverage. Worse, if the student is included on parents’ insurance policy, the family policy rates may be raised or the policy cancelled. For more information on the DUI/DWI laws in your state visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the NIAAA's Alcohol Policy Information System.

Parent: "I know my son didn't drink in high school, but when he got to college, he joined a fraternity, so I worried about whether he would be drinking. His freshman year, he had mono, so drinking really wasn't an issue. He knew he couldn't drink. His sophomore year, though, I found out that he got a ticket for underage drinking, so we had another discussion. I asked how he had dealt with the ticket. He said he kind of 'knew the system.'

He had once received a ticket for not having a license plate on his restored car, so my husband and I went to court with him that time. We talked to the judge, and he cleaned up my son's record. This time, he said he went before the judge, did some talking, and managed to get the fine reduced by half. The judge just told him never to drink again.

I guess at this age, parenting is hit and miss. You just try to stay connected so they'll tell you what's going on."

Cost to First-time Underage DWI Offender

Cost to First-Time Underage DWI Offender with blood-alcohol level between .10 and .20 percent

Attorney $2,500
Fine $300
Surcharge $78
Tow and Impound $175
Alcohol Assessment $125
Education Program $350
License Reinstatement $780
Victim Impact Panel $100
Insurance $24,000
Total $28,408

Note: Penalties increase substantially if alcohol level is above .20 or if person is a multiple offender

Information on the chart above is provided by University Student Legal Services at the University of Minnesota and reflects estimated costs in the State of Minnesota.

Any student offenders are advised to seek legal advice from their college or university’s student legal service, if available. Not all schools provide legal services for their students.

In some communities, a restorative justice program may also be available to students who have no previous record. Restorative justice allows students to do community service or other projects to have charges reduced or cleared and their matter diverted from the criminal justice system.

With a blood-alcohol level at .16 or higher, drivers will need to ignition interlock system installed if they wish to drive again for a period of 1 year.  That cost is about $125.00 per month. If the individual is under the age of 21 when they receive the DWI all periods of revocation are doubles and they will be required in some instances to take drivers education classes over before becoming eligible for reinstatement of driving privileges.

If their student lists their address as their permanent address, a DWI can result in the insurance company raising their rates or canceling their policy even if their student owned their own vehicle or had separate insurance. This is because under our "No-Fault" Act a person is a named insured in the home where they reside.