David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler

A few years ago, in the middle of a snowy night, an officer of the Cornell University Police Department found a shirtless young man sitting on a rock in the creek in one of our gorges, dangling his feet in the water. Asked what he thought he was doing, the student explained that he was calling a friend to pick him up.

The majority of college students will never drink enough to wind up in a situation like this–or worse–but a significant minority will come close. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “about half of college student drinkers engage in heavy episodic consumption,” commonly defined as downing five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks for women at least once in a two-week period. Since about 21.6 million Americans were enrolled in college in fall 2012, the number of students who engage in high-risk drinking on U.S. campuses easily exceeds the population of New York City.

As part of its Changing the Culture initiative, the NIAAA has compiled data on the consequences of heavy drinking for college students. For example: Each year, nearly 700,000 students are assaulted by fellow students who have been drinking. Almost 600,000 students are injured–and about 1,825 students die–as a result of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related accidents, including motor vehicle crashes. Each year, nearly 100,000 students are survivors of sexual assault, including rape, while under the influence of alcohol; 400,000 students have unprotected sex while drunk; more than 100,000 students were so intoxicated while having sex that they weren’t sure if they consented or not.

Heavy drinking is especially hard on young brains. In their forthcoming book, What Are They Thinking? The straight facts about the risk-taking, social-networking, still-developing teen brain, Aaron M. White and Scott Swartzwelder cite research indicating that many of alcohol’s negative impacts are more pronounced in late adolescence than in adulthood. The greatest impairment is found in attention, memory, judgment, decision-making, information processing and language skills. According to the NIAAA, about 25 percent of college students report negative academic consequences of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall. The long-term effects include a higher risk of lifelong alcohol dependency than more temperate peers.

Continue Reading: forbes.com