Opinion: Youth & Alcohol

Alcohol & Academics: How Drinking Can Affect Academic Success

A recent study from the Journal of Applied Psychology found that alcohol consumption, in general, did not affect the likelihood of post-graduation employment. However, seniors who reported heavy episodic drinking experienced a 10% reduction in the probability of employment following graduation.

While alcohol’s impact on the ability of new grads to land a job has not been extensively examined, we do know from more than two decades of research that excessive drinking and frequent use of alcohol has a negative impact on multiple health, safety, and academic outcomes. Knowing this, it makes sense that high risk drinkers may face more of a challenge in the job market, particularly with the research connecting excessive alcohol use with lower class attendance, time spent studying, and grade point average.

Using data collected from 13,900 first year students at 167 universities, researchers in a 2011 study found that “after time spent studying, the amount of time a student spent drinking was the strongest predictor of that student’s GPA – even more so than time spent in the classroom.” Additionally, Porter and Pryor in 2007 identified a negative relationship between heavy episodic alcohol use and the time students spend on academics.Together, these findings support the earlier work of Wechsler and colleagues (1998) that frequent binge drinkers are more likely to miss a class and fall behind in their schoolwork.

The impact of alcohol on grade point average GPA has also been extensively studied. In 1993, a study by Cheryl Presley was one of the first to identify that the heaviest drinkers obtain the lowest grades. Later research continued to illustrate a significant relationship between GPA and the percent of students who drink or are heavy drinkers (Engs et al., 1996; Wolaver, 2002). In particular, those students reporting 4.0 GPAs were found to consume a third fewer drinks compared to those with GPAs under 2.0 (Engs et al., 1996).  Looking at differences between categories of drinkers, Rau & Durand (2000) found a significant decline in GPA when comparing abstainers to heavier drinkers. Lastly, the frequency of high-risk drinking also plays a factor, with the probability of getting a high GPA significantly decreasing as the frequency of heavy episodic drinking increases (Porter & Pryor, 2007; Pascarella et al., 2007).

These observations serve to remind us that campus prevention efforts must extend beyond student affairs to academic life, particularly through the engagement of faculty and academic deans. The premise of higher education is to provide formal learning on the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a chosen area of study and, ultimately, a career. We owe it to our students to ensure that we provide an understanding of how alcohol impacts their goals beyond graduation and that the formal knowledge they have amassed during their time on campus is not the only aspect of college that can influence their future success.

Ms. Timpf has more than 20 years experience in the college alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevention field, having worked at both public and private universities. She has authored and managed federal and state grants, coordinated nationally recognized prevention programs, and served multiple terms as the directorate chair of AOD issues for the American College Personnel Association. At EVERFI, Kimberley serves as a subject matter expert in alcohol prevention program design and development, application of prevention theory in higher education settings, training and instruction, and methods of evaluation.


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