College Academic Performance and Alcohol Use
This article summarizes the research on the relationship between academic performance by college students and drinking behavior and suggests, that through a variety of research approaches, there is a clear negative correlation between drinking and academic performance.
From Perkins, H. W. (2002). Surveying the Damage: A Review of Research on Consequences of Alcohol Misuse in College Populations. Journal of Studies in Alcohol, Supplement 14, p. 91-100.
Available here. Following is an excerpt:
Academic impairment. A substantial amount of empirical research is available demonstrating a connection between alcohol consumption and impaired academic performance. Among 41,581 students responding to the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey in representative mail and classroom administrations at 89 institutions holding FIPSE drug prevention program grants nationwide in 1992-94, 22% indicated that they had performed poorly on a test or project (26% of drinkers), and 28% had missed a class during the last year (33% or one-third of drinkers) due to alcohol or other drug use (Presley et al., 1996). Wechsler et al.'s (1998) nationwide College Alcohol Study surveyed a nationally representative sample of 14,521 students attending 116 fouryear colleges and universities in 1997 and found that 24% (30% of drinkers) reported missing a class within the current academic year as a result of drinking and 19% (23% of drinkers) reported getting behind in schoolwork during the current year as a result of drinking. Males drinking 5+ drinks or females drinking 4+ drinks in a row one or two times in a 2-week period were more than three times as likely to report getting behind in schoolwork due to their drinking in the current year in comparison with more moderate drinkers, and males drinking 5+ or females drinking 4+ drinks in a row on at least three occasions in a 2-week period were more than eight times more likely to report this problem.
Similarly, Engs et al.'s (1996) Student Alcohol Questionnaire administered to 12,081 students who were contacted in a demographically representative quota sample of 168 four-year institutions across the United States in 1994 revealed higher levels of consumption associated with markedly higher rates of alcohol-related academic problems. Among “low-risk drinkers” (males consuming 21 or fewer drinks and females consuming 14 or fewer drinks per week), 11% had missed class due to a hangover, and less than 3% noted having received a lower grade due to drinking. Among “high-risk” drinkers (22+ drinks/week for males and 15+ drinks/week for females), however, more than half of these survey respondents had missed classes due to a hangover, and more than 15% reported receiving a lower grade due to their drinking.
High rates of drinking-related academic problems can be found in demographically diverse campus settings. For example, Werch et al. (1987) found that 18% of a sample of 410 students (23% of drinkers in the sample) attending a midsize southern university admitted they had missed class due to a hangover in the past year. Perkins (1992) found one-third of students reporting they had missed classes or examinations or had performed poorly on assignments due to their drinking during the academic year in a sample of 584 students from a small, private college with few abstainers in the Northeast.
In addition to students' subjective determinations of academic impairment, a consistent association between self-reported grade averages and levels of alcohol consumption is revealed in several studies. For example, among Core Survey respondents nationally (Presley et al., 1996), A average students consumed an average of 3.4 drinks per week, B average students were drinking 4.5 drinks, C students were drinking 6.1 drinks, and D or F students typically drank 9.8 drinks. This pattern was found at 2-year schools as well as 4-year institutions. Likewise, Engs et al. (1996) reported a consistent inverse relationship between weekly drink averages and grade point average in their national study. Of course, correlation does not prove causality here. Although quite plausible, it cannot be determined with certainty from these cross-sectional data that heavier drinking per se was responsible for the lower grade performances. Wood et al. (1997) provided this caution based on their study of 444 students attending a large midwestern university. Although they also found a bivariate association between problematic alcohol use and academic problems, most of the association was accounted for by controlling for family background factors and student academic characteristics that existed before any collegiate drinking.
Engs, R.C., Diebold, B.A. and Hanson , D.J. The drinking patterns and problems of a national sample of college students, 1994. J. Alcohol Drug Educ. 41 (3): 13-33, 1996.
Perkins, H.W. Gender patterns in consequences of collegiate alcohol abuse: A 10-year study of trends in an undergraduate population. J. Stud. Alcohol 53: 458-462, 1992.
Presley, C.A., Meilman, P.W. and Cashin, J.R. Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Use, Consequences and Perceptions of the Campus Environment, Volume IV: 1992-1994, Carbondale, IL: Core Institute, Southern Illinois University, 1996.
Wechsler, H., Dowdall, G.W., Maenner, G., Gledhill-Hoyt, J. and Lee, H. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993 and 1997. Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. J. Amer. Coll. Hlth 47: 57- 68, 1998.
Werch, C.E., Gorman, D.R. and Marty, P.J. Relationship between alcohol consumption and alcohol problems in young adults. J. Drug Educ. 17: 261-275, 1987.
Wood, P.K., Sher, K.J., Erickson, D.J. and DeBord, K.A. Predicting academic problems in college from freshman alcohol involvement. J. Stud. Alcohol 58: 200-210, 1997.