Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America's Campuses | CASAColumbia

Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America’s Campuses

Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America’s Campuses

Published: June 1994

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Substance abuse among college students, particularly excessive alcohol use, is a nationwide problem of increasing severity, with serious consequences.


CASAColumbia’s work for this report involved reviewing relevant publications and data, interviewing experts in the field, conducting focus groups with students, and examining existing programs designed to address substance abuse on college campuses.


The report found that excessive college drinking is too often accepted as a “rite of passage,” nurturing a behavior that is destroying lives and endangering our country’s future. Findings from the report included the following statistics:

  • 42% of all college students reported that they had engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks at a time) in the last 2 weeks, while only 33% of their non-college counterparts did so
  • 1 in 3 college students drank primarily to get drunk
  • 8% of students drank an average of 16 or more drinks per week
  • Students spent $5.5 billion per year on alcohol, more than they spent on soft drinks, tea, milk, juice, coffee and books combined; on a typical campus, per capita student spending on alcohol—$446 per student—far exceeded the per capita budget of the college library
  • In the last 5 years, the number of emergency room admissions for alcohol poisoning in campus communities jumped 15%

The report concluded that colleges can influence the culture that is developed and supported on campus. Institutions must recognize that, while eliminating excessive drinking is not solely their responsibility, they play a large role in influencing the behavior of their students and shoulder a major responsibility to do so.


The following recommendations are among those offered by this report:

  • Shift the college culture away from accepting alcohol abuse and its consequences as part of the “rites of passage;” to do this, institutions need to develop a collective, comprehensive strategy that begins with a clearly articulated statement of values and is supported by sustained public discussion and the commitment of resources
  • Reverse the image of alcohol from a liberating to a debilitating force through increased education, awareness and counter-advertising—abusing alcohol must be recognized as a crutch to deal with stress and to cope with transition; the college community must provide students with other mechanisms to confront these challenges rather than avoid them
  • Assign specific roles and tasks to each constituency in the campus community—trustees, college presidents, deans, athletic coaches, faculty, alumni, parents and students—to help shift the campus culture away from alcohol and other drug abuse

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