Alcohol and college athletes

Toben F. Nelson, Henry Wechsler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study examines heavy episodic alcohol consumption and associated harms in collegiate athletes in the United States. The factors which may promote or deter such use are explored. Methods: Randomly selected students in a nationally representative sample of 4-yr colleges in the United States completed self-report questionnaires in the spring of 1997. Athletes were defined as students who participated in one or more hours of intercollegiate athletics per day. Heavy episodic or "binge" drinking for men was defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion in the past 2 wk and four or more for women. Athletes were compared with other students at their colleges. Results: Athletes reported more binge drinking, heavier alcohol use, and a greater number of drinking-related harms. Athletes are more likely to exhibit the strong social ties found to be associated with binge drinking. Athletes, despite drinking more heavily than other students, report greater exposure to alcohol prevention efforts and possess unique motivations to limit their alcohol use. Conclusions: Athletes are a high-risk group for binge drinking and alcohol-related harms. Although special educational programs have targeted this group they have not sufficiently impacted the problem. Future prevention efforts targeted for athletes should address the unique social and environmental influences on athletes. Programs should also take advantage of motives of athletes for self-limiting alcohol intake. Colleges, athletic departments, coaches, and sports medicine professionals are urged to act to help reduce athletes risk of alcohol-related harms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-47
Number of pages5
JournalMedicine and science in sports and exercise
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Alcohol education
  • Alcohol-related harms
  • Binge drinking
  • Prevention
  • Sports


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