With high pressures to perform both in the game and in the classroom, student athletes have an unfortunately high alcohol abuse rate. With a work-hard, play-hard culture and unique social environments and peer pressures, student athletes are more likely to report heavy episodic drinking and subscribe to high-risk drinking as part of college party culture. 

These tendencies can lead to negative consequences like lower academic success, and increased risk of sexual assault and other interpersonal violence. To address substance use in athletes and help them succeed, athletic administrators need to understand, support, and empower student athletes to make better decisions about alcohol. 

Student Athletes Report Higher Rate of Binge Drinking

According to the 2017 National Study on Substance Use Habits of College Student-Athletes by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA):

  • 36% of student-athletes reported drinking on a weekly basis
  • 42% of all student-athletes said they engage in binge drinking

In a 2001 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise survey of 12,777 undergraduate students, athletes reported binge drinking of alcohol at higher rates than their non-athlete peers.

  • Among males, 57% of athletes reported at least one binge drinking episode in the past 2 weeks compared with 48.8% of nonathletes 
  • Among females, athletes reported a higher rate of recent binge drinking (48.0%) than nonathletes (40.2%).
  • Male athletes were less likely to abstain from alcohol than male nonathletes.
  • Athletes were more likely to exhibit several social influences related to alcohol use. For example, athletes were more likely to say partying was important and have large groups of friends.  Athletes were more likely to report that most of their friends (70% or more) were binge drinkers.

What Campus Efforts Support Better Choices?

To implement an evidence-based program, sports administrators can provide alcohol education in addition to working with campus and community colleagues and experts. The goal is to provide a comprehensive framework to prevent alcohol misuse, engage students, and deter harmful behavior.

The 2001 study highlighted two major action points for colleges:

  • Emphasize motives for athletes not to drink – Many athletes reported that participating in athletics was an important reason for abstaining or limiting alcohol. Reinforce education about the negative effects of alcohol on athletic performance, like how alcohol impairs muscle growth, dehydrates the body, prevents recovery, and slows reaction time. 
  • Improve social environment – Examine forces within your school and community that can impact athlete’s alcohol misuse, such as the importance, money, and pressure placed on athletics. 

Individual-Focused Initiatives

Alcohol education programming

It’s critical that student athletes have the knowledge and skills to make good decisions about alcohol. At 3rd Millennium Classrooms, we help colleges and universities across the country create safer, healthier campuses by using Alcohol-Wise, our alcohol prevention programming. Learn more by calling (888) 810-7990, or emailing hello@3rdmil.com.

Brief screening and interventions 

Identify students who are at risk for unhealthy drinking, and provide them personalized feedback, motivational interviewing, sports performance feedback, coping skills training, and follow-ups. 

Bystander intervention training

Help students understand how to act in risky situations. Our Alcohol-Wise course includes bystander intervention training. 

Recruiting student leaders for positive influence

Many student athletes report being highly social, and can be sensitive to positive and negative peer pressures. Student leaders who reinforce positive decisions about alcohol set a good example for the team.

Mental health and substance use support 

Poor mental health is a contributing factor to substance abuse. A student athlete can be struggling with anxiety, depression, and stress as well as other issues like dependence, denial, fear of legal consequences, and fear of stigma. Tell them your concerns and direct them to seek professional help.

Environment-Focused Initiatives

Coach training

Coaches are the front line for student athletes, and their leadership is key. Coaches can establish positive expectations and guidelines, anticipate challenges, and be prepared to act.

Social marketing/social norms marketing

Address how students think about alcohol with intentional messaging targeting their beliefs about alcohol and norms on campus. Coordinate with marketing initiatives on campus.

Substance-free housing

No-alcohol residences help limit drinking. Encourage athletes to live in substance-free housing to reduce problem drinking. 

Campus patrols

Target student alcohol violations and prevent them from escalating. Coordinate with campus police when student athletes are involved in alcohol-related violations like underage drinking or driving under the influence.  


Every college athletics program has its own challenges to alcohol abuse, including the culture of drinking on their college campus.  Campus alcohol prevention is a science, and there are many components to implementing alcohol abuse prevention in athletes. By engaging students athletes in comprehensive alcohol prevention efforts, coaches, athletic personnel, and universities can demonstrate leadership and improve academic and athletic performance.