Many College Freshmen Drink at Levels Far Beyond the Binge Threshold


  • The study was funded by NIAAA Grant 12478 to HSS, VA Senior Research Career Scientist Award to HSS, and a Duke Undergraduate Research Fellowship to CLK.

Reprint requests: Aaron M. White, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Box 3374, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710; Fax: 919-286-4662; E-mail:


Background: Binge drinking is a dichotomous variable that allows researchers to sort students into categories based upon a specific threshold of consumption, commonly 4 (females) or 5 (males) drinks. Crossing the binge threshold increases the risk of negative alcohol-related consequences. The use of such thresholds has played a vital role in the study of college drinking. While extremely valuable, the dichotomous nature of binge drinking variables removes information about how heavily students actually drink, leaving the characterization of college drinking incomplete. The present study examined patterns of alcohol use beyond the binge threshold.

Methods: The data set consisted of self-reported 2-week drinking histories from 10,424 first-semester freshmen at 14 schools across the United States during the fall of 2003. The number of students who reached the 4+/5+ binge-drinking threshold was calculated, as was the number who reached 2 times (8+/10+ drinks) or 3 times (12+/15+ drinks) the binge threshold. Logistic regression analyses were used to explore gender differences and to assess whether frequent binge drinkers (3+ binges per 2 weeks) were more likely than infrequent binge drinkers (1–2 binges per 2 weeks) to reach high peak levels of consumption.

Results: Roughly 1 of 5 males consumed 10+ drinks and 1 of 10 females consumed 8+ drinks, twice the binge threshold, at least once in the previous 2 weeks. Gender differences were observed at every drinking level and were particularly large at higher peak levels. Frequent binge drinkers were more likely than infrequent binge drinkers to consume 2 or 3 times the binge threshold.

Discussion: A surprisingly large percentage of students, particularly males, drink at peak levels well beyond the binge threshold. Such findings suggest that schools might make additional progress in the battle against alcohol misuse by focusing on extreme drinking practices in addition to binge drinking per se.