FAQs About Alcohol Use at the University of Michigan

How does alcohol influence campus life?

Most students grow up in a culture which equates the consumption of alcohol with having fun, relaxing, making social situations complete and reducing tension. Drinking alcohol has become a rite of passage for some young people in this country, and many students come to college having learned to drink during their high school years.

Students' decisions to use alcohol are strongly affected by environmental and peer influences, which combine to create a culture of drinking. This culture actively promotes drinking, or passively promotes it, through tolerance, or even tacit approval. The alcohol beverage industry aggressively targets young adults through advertising and program sponsorship such as MTV programs and sports events (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, Georgetown University, 2002). The use of alcohol on campus has created a culture of beliefs and customs, entrenched in every level of college students' environments. These beliefs and customs, combined with the expectations they engender, exert a powerful influence over students' attitude and behavior toward alcohol use.

Parents also play an important role in their students' decision to use alcohol. Young adults are influenced by parents' attitudes toward alcohol use as well as the drinking behavior they have been exposed to as children. Reminiscing about drunk college experiences in a positive way contributes to students' belief that drinking is an expected and appropriate activity in college. Parents can positively influence students by clearly stating their values about underage alcohol use and discussing the academic and legal consequences. Keeping lines of communication open while the student progresses at U-M is also very helpful and supportive.

Unfortunately, harmful alcohol use can produce serious outcomes. In 2002, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) announced findings of a large scale research project. This study found that 1,400 college students die each year from alcohol- related injuries, 500,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are injured while under the influence of alcohol, and more than 600,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking (A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges, NIAAA, 2002).

What are the definitions of binge and harmful drinking? How do these terms relate to alcoholism?

Binge drinking is currently defined as a discrete number of drinks on a single occasion. The generally agreed-upon numbers are 5 (or more) drinks in a single episode for men, and either 4 or 5 (or more) drinks for women. At U-M, we prefer the criteria of 4 (or more) drinks for women because it accounts for the physiological differences between men and women. Further, this sex-based criteria allows us to compare our data with other post-secondary institutions.

Binge drinking is particularly problematic because significant quantities of alcohol are being consumed in a short period of time. As this happens, the body's blood alcohol content rises dramatically. As decision-making abilities decrease along with reaction time and other motor functioning skills, the probability of negative consequences from alcohol consumption increases dramatically.

Although the term "binge drinking" is currently popular, we prefer the term "harmful drinking." Harmful drinking is defined as any alcohol use that engenders a high likelihood of negative consequences. The notion of harmful drinking clarifies that any alcohol use can result in negative social, interpersonal and legal consequences. By definition, binge drinking is harmful drinking, but some harmful drinking occurs regardless of number of drinks consumed. Harmful drinking also includes drinking done by alcoholics.

While it is true that a subset of students who chronically engage in harmful drinking behaviors will-or already have-become alcohol dependent, we are equally concerned about the much larger percentage of students who experience lasting consequences from episodic harmful drinking. Excessive alcohol use affects not only the individual who is drinking, but also friends, family and the community as a whole.

Does U-M have a drinking problem?

Many students come to campus already having experimented with alcohol. One of the strongest predictors of alcohol use in college is the student's social life in high school (Bucholz, 1990; Jacob and Leonard, 1994). The latest national statistics (Wechsler, 2001) indicate that overall 44% of undergraduate college students have had a binge in the past two weeks (binge drinking defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more for men in the course of one episode). On the UM campus, these rates are higher with 52% of undergraduate students having engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past two weeks (Student Life Survey, Boyd and McCabe, 2007).

Consistent with national research, students report primary and secondary consequences associated with alcohol use. For instance, 20.5% of undergraduate students who consumed alcohol in year prior to the survey reported driving a car under the influence, and twenty-nine percent experienced a blackout. Additionally, 69% of all undergraduate students reported having to take care of someone drunk in the past year and 28% reported having their property damaged by someone drunk.

U-M takes the problem of excessive alcohol use very seriously and will continue to be proactive in its education, prevention and treatment efforts.

Does the University have policies and laws that govern alcohol use on campus? What happens to students who are caught using alcohol?

All faculty, students, staff and campus visitors are subject to prosecution if they engage in illegal use, possession or distribution of alcohol or other drugs on the U-M campus. The University is governed by federal and state laws and also enforces Ann Arbor city ordinances, though state laws supersede city ordinances if they are in conflict. The U-M Police, a full-service law enforcement agency, has jurisdiction for all activities on University-owned property. See What You Need to Know about Laws, Policies and Ordinances involving Alcohol and Other Drugs for a brief overview of pertinent laws, ordinances and polices.

The U-M  Alcohol and Other Drug Policy for Students, Faculty and Staff fulfills the federal mandate for all institutions of higher education to have an AOD policy and distribute this policy annually to all employees and students. This policy outlines the University's prevention, education and intervention efforts, and consequences that may be applied by both the University and external authorities for policy violations. The law also requires that individuals be notified of possible health risks associated with the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and sources of assistance for problems that may arise as a result of use.

When students are cited for legal or policy violations, they are subject to sanctions through the University's student conduct process. The Statement of Student's Rights and Responsibilities is the policy document that governs student conduct. It is administered by The Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR). Sanctions for policy violations may include: counseling, education and community restitution. For more severe violations or repeated offenses sanctions may include suspension or expulsion. Parents / guardians may be contacted related to an incident involving their student -- see Parent / Family Communication regarding Alcohol and Other Drug Harm.

What is the University doing to prevent the problems of alcohol and other drugs?

To learn more about campus efforts to address alcohol use, see U-M Typology Matrix: Mapping Alcohol and Other Drug Campus and Community Prevention Efforts (PDF).

How are parents involved in campus efforts?

U-M Student Life staff work closely with students, whenever feasible, to urge them to involve their parents when challenges arise. 

On a more programmatic level, there are several avenues that are used to communicate with student's parents and family members:

What research related to campus alcohol use does the University conduct?

  • National College Health Assessment, performed by University Health Service
  • UHS in collaboration with researchers from the Institute for Women and Gender conduct the Student Life Survey biannually to assess many factors related to student alcohol and other drug use.
  • U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) administers an annual national survey on adolescent use of alcohol and other drugs. See Monitoring the Future.

For more information:

U-M Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program:
Wolverine Wellness, University Health Service

National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Information on all aspects of alcohol use and college students, including recommendations for reducing use.