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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Survey finds drinking alcohol remains more popular among college students than marijuana, cigarettes

Alcohol isn’t the only drug available to students, but it’s certainly the most used.

In the past year, 76 percent of students in Indiana reported using alcohol, according to a recent study conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center. The second highest used drug was marijuana at 28.4 percent, followed by cigarette use at 28.1 percent.

The study, called the “Indiana College Substance Use Survey,” was distributed in spring at nine colleges to more than 5,000 students. It asked students about their substance use, reasons for using these drugs, consequences faced, age at first use, types of alcohol consumed, prescription drug misuse and gambling. This is the third year for the study, and it was conducted in cooperation with Indiana Collegiate Action Network.

Rosie King, research associate at IPRC, said there could be a number of reasons for the large gap between alcohol use and all other substances. One explanation, she said, could be that alcohol is easier to obtain because it is legal, unlike marijuana. Another reason, she said, could be the perception of risk involved.

“There might be a greater perception of risk of using tobacco than alcohol,” King said. “When people don’t think there’s a risk, they’re more likely to use the substance.”

Lisa Hutcheson, director of ICAN, said the perception that everyone is drinking on a college campus can also be a factor in why the majority of students reported consuming alcohol.  

“I think it’s that social norm of drinking that makes it a bigger problem,” Hutcheson said.

In addition to surveying what the most commonly used drug is among students, the survey also asked about binge drinking.

About 50 percent of the students surveyed reported binge drinking in the past month, and 40.2 percent reported binge drinking in the past two weeks. For the purpose of the study, binge drinking was defined as four or more drinks in one sitting for females and five or more drinks in one sitting for males.

King said she was surprised to see that while men and women generally use alcohol at similar rates, with 71.3 percent of males and 69.7 percent of females reporting alcohol use in the past month, men continue to engage in binge drinking at a higher rate.

She also said it was interesting to see age is not a factor in binge drinking. Students younger than 21 reported binge drinking in the past month at 49.6 percent, and students older than 21 reported a rate of 51 percent.

The most common reason for drinking was to have a good time with friends, at 85.6 percent. To relax or relieve tension was the second-most common reason, at 62.3 percent. About 46 percent reported drinking to feel good and 20.3 percent because of boredom or nothing else to do.

The study also asked students about the consequences of using these substances. The most popular consequence in the past six months was having a hangover, at 63.2 percent, and blacking out was the second highest at 29.4 percent.

King said the study also showed the consequences can affect students’ work, with 17.8 percent admitting to missing class or an assignment as a result of drinking.

Before the study began three years ago, Hutcheson said statewide data like this wasn’t easily available.

“There was no way for us to get a good picture of what was happening statewide,” Hutcheson said. “I think it’s important for all of us to know what’s happening in our state.”

Each school that participates in the study receives individual data from the students who answered from that school. Hutcheson said schools should look at this specific data to know what programs to implement.

“Every campus has issues, regardless of size,” Hutcheson said. “You cannot address a problem you don’t know you have.”

King agreed that colleges need to do something to fix the problem.

“We need to give the message that this is not acceptable,” King said. “There needs to be a culture change.”