From hangovers to blacking out: Students suffer 102 alcohol-related consequences at college

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s no secret that many college students spend much of their four years at school drinking way more than they probably should. Now, a new study is actually putting a number on the plethora of unfortunate consequences that comes from a wild night of college drinking. Over four years, researchers from Penn State say the average college student deals with 102 alcohol-related consequences the morning after.

These range from blacking out, suffering a hangover, or having to miss work or class because they drank too much the night (and early morning) before. However, the team found one major factor keeps many students from overdoing it at a college party — strict, disapproving parents!

Researchers say college students who thought their parents would disapprove of their alcohol-related dilemmas ended up reporting fewer negative incidents after drinking than their peers who partied harder.

“We often think of peers as having an influence on drinking behaviors, but we found that parents can make a difference, even after their child has left home,” says Kimberly Mallett, a research professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Center and a clinical psychologist, in a university release.

1 in 4 say drinking led to an uncomfortable sexual experience

Study authors surveyed 1,700 students at one college twice a year for four years. While the team notes that they only surveyed people at one school, they believe the findings are fairly relatable at any college across the U.S.

Researchers asked each student about their alcohol consumption and the number of alcohol-related consequences they experienced each semester. Specifically, the survey asked about 21 different consequences of drinking and also focused on what each student’s parents would think about 12 of those consequences — including blacking out, suffering a hangover, and missing appointments the next day.

Results show that as student drinking increased, so did the number of next-day consequences. Overall, suffering a hangover was the most common consequence of drinking, with 96.7 percent of respondents saying they had at least one hangover during their four years in college. Nearly as many students (96.1%) admit to “saying or doing embarrassing things” at least once after drinking.

Concerningly, one in four respondents say they have “been pressured or forced to have sex with someone because they were too drunk to prevent it.”

“More than 70% of respondents said they ‘needed larger amounts of alcohol to feel any effect,’ which is concerning because this indicates increased tolerance to alcohol and is an early risk factor for developing an alcohol use disorder,” adds Mallett.

Moms and dads play a big role in alcohol-related choices

When it comes to the impression parents leave on their children, the survey asked students “how would your mother/father respond if she/he knew you experienced [specific consequence] as a result of your drinking?”

“The research shows that parents have an influence on students’ drinking habits and whether they experience problems from drinking,” Mallett reports.

Overall, those who thought their parents would disapprove suffered fewer consequences during their four years at school, while those who thought their parents would approve of their drinking ended up suffering more next-day problems.

“Kids really look to their parents for guidance in a lot of ways even if they don’t outwardly say it,” Mallett adds. “It’s empowering for parents to know that they can make a difference. For parents who have been permissive about drinking in the past, it’s never too late to switch gears.”

The team recommends that parents talk about the possible serious consequences of drinking with their growing children, emphasizing that the conversation comes from a place of love for them. Study authors also recommend parents and children discuss approaches to decision-making when dealing with possible drinking scenarios.

Parents and college students should also brainstorm strategies for not drinking to the point where the drinking puts them in danger and maintain an open dialogue about alcohol throughout the student’s time in college.

The findings are published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

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