Both binge drinking and sexual assault are major issues for many colleges and universities nationwide. At least one half of sexual assault involves alcohol consumption. While alcohol consumption doesn’t cause sexual assault, it can play a major contributing role.


  • Consuming alcohol is associated with loss of inhibition and aggression, and perpetrators may use alcohol to justify their behavior. 

  • Consuming alcohol is associated with a reduced ability to evaluate risk and resist effectively. While a victim’s alcohol consumption may increase their risk of sexual assault, perpetrators are responsible for their behavior.
  • Reducing alcohol use is part of a whole-school approach to reducing sexual assault.

For many incoming students, college is a time of experimentation. Experimenting with alcohol and sex (and often, both) can result in dangerous situations for many college women and some men.

How Common is Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault?

Many people aren’t aware of how prevalent sexual assault is in college, and how commonly alcohol is involved. 

Here are some statistics on campus sexual assault and alcohol: 

  • An estimated 25.9% of undergraduate women experience nonconsensual sexual contact by force or inability to consent (Association of American Universities 2020 Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct). 
  • About one-half of sexual assaults involve alcohol use by the victim; an estimated 30 to 79 percent involve alcohol use by the perpetrator (Abbey et al. 1994; Crowell and Burgess 1996). 

Sexual assault and rape are severely underreported crimes, since women may feel disbelieved, blamed, or unsupported while perpetrators may be defended. 

Dangerous Expectancies Can Lead to Dangerous Behavior

Alcohol’s effects on cognitive functioning can affect planning and problem-solving, and contribute to a man misperceiving a woman’s cues as being more encouraging than she really is. However, while alcohol does have certain cognitive and motor effects, an individual’s belief (or expectancy) about how alcohol will affect them may influence how they act while intoxicated. 

A few common expectancies that can contribute to sexual assault on campus include:

  • Alcohol is commonly viewed as an aphrodisiac that increases sexual desire and capacity (Crowe and George 1989). Some perpetrators may intentionally get drunk as “liquid courage” or to excuse their actions. 
  • Women who drink alcohol are often seen as more sexually available and promiscuous compared to women who do not drink (Abbey et al. 1996b). Date rapists often report intentionally getting a woman drunk to have sex with her. Women are also less likely to resist effectively, contributing to higher percentages of completed rapes.

Challenging these expectancies can help address rape culture and reduce sexual assault. 

Campus Party Life and Alcohol

In certain student populations, drinking and sexual assault may be more common. Some fraternities promote both heavy drinking and sexual exploitation of women (Abbey et al. 1996b). Fraternity members and male athletes often have a culture of hypermasculinity, and are more likely than other men on campus to perpetrate sexual assault or hold dangerous attitudes toward women.

Implications: A Combined Approach for Safer Campuses

Colleges and universities should employ a multi-factor approach to addressing alcohol use and sexual assault. While substance abuse programs should be continued among college students, colleges should pair these programs with sexual and relationship violence programs because of the intersection with these issues.

Learn more about 3rd Millennium Classrooms and its online alcohol prevention education and relationship violence courses:

  • Alcohol-Wise: an online alcohol prevention course designed for incoming first-year or transfer students to educate them on the physical and mental health effects of alcohol, engage students of various drinking levels, and equip them with skills to make healthier decisions.
  • Consent & Respect: an online course about consent, healthy relationships, bystander empowerment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. This course helps colleges cover Title IX and Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) requirements.

Join the hundreds of colleges and universities using Alcohol-Wise and Consent & Respect by getting in touch


“Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Involving Alcohol” American Addiction Centers.
Antonia Abbey, Ph.D., Tina Zawacki, M.A., Philip O. Buck, M.A., A. Monique Clinton, M.A., and Pam McAuslan, Ph.D. Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Alcohol Research & Health. 2001;25(1): 43-51.
Koss, M.P. Hidden rape: Sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of students in higher education. In: Burgess, A.W., ed. Rape and Sexual Assault. Vol. 2. New York: Garland, 1988. pp. 3 25.
“2020 Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.” Association of American Universities.
Abbey, A.; Ross, L.T.; and McDuffie, D. Alcohol’s role in sexual assault. In: Watson R.R., ed. Drug and Alcohol Abuse Reviews: Volume 5 Addictive Behaviors in Women. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 1994. pp. 97 123.
Crowell, N.A., and Burgess, A.W. Understanding Violence Against Women. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996.
Crowe, L.C., AND George, W.H. Alcohol and human sexuality: Review and integration. Psychological Bulletin 105:374 386, 1989.