In the spring of 1997, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA), in conjunction with the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) of Texas A&M University, conducted a telephone survey of substance use and related behaviors among full-time undergraduate students in Texas aged 18 to 26. Some 2,420 randomly selected students from seven of the eight largest public universities and the three largest private universities participated in the study.
Licit Substance Use
- Nearly half (45 percent) of all college students have used tobacco sometime in their lives; 26 percent have used tobacco in the past month.
- Forty-two percent of students have ever smoked cigarettes, and 24 percent have smoked cigarettes in the past month.
- The percentage of students in Texas who have smoked cigarettes in the past month was less than the percentage of students nationwide who have smoked in the past month (29 percent in 1997).
- College students in Texas were more likely to smoke cigarettes than use smokeless tobacco. Thirteen percent of college students have ever used smokeless tobacco, and 6 percent have used smokeless tobacco in the past month. Among students who have used smokeless tobacco, 89 percent were Anglo males.
- Alcohol was the number-one substance that college students reported using. Eighty-eight percent of students have drunk an alcoholic beverage at least once during their lifetimes, 82 percent have drunk alcohol in the past year, and 69 percent have drunk alcohol in the past month.
- Although the legal drinking age in Texas is 21, 60 percent of students aged 18 to 20 reported drinking an alcoholic beverage within the past month. Most underage college students (90 percent) reported obtaining alcohol from someone aged 21 or older.
- A substantial percentage of students (29 percent) reported bingeing on alcohol (Figure 1), which is drinking five alcoholic beverages in a row for men and four drinks in a row for women on two or more occasions within the past month.
- Anglos and Hispanics had higher percentages of binge drinkers, 33 percent and 27 percent, respectively. African American students had the lowest percentage of binge drinkers. Anglos had the highest prevalence of getting drunk often (20 percent) and abusing alcohol (17 percent).
- Students with parents earning over $60,000 a year were more likely than students from less wealthy families to currently drink, binge drink, and abuse alcohol. Members of fraternities/sororities were also more likely than non-members to currently drink, binge drink, and abuse alcohol.
- Students who binge drank during their last year in high school were much more likely (61 percent) than students who did not binge drink during their last year (19 percent) to be binge drinkers in college.
- Among students who abstained from drinking, large percentages said that they did not drink because it was bad for their health (91 percent), it was against their values (90 percent), they did not want to lose control (88 percent), and alcohol interfered with studying (81 percent).
- Five percent of college students reported ever having used inhalants. One percent had used inhalants in the past month. Nitrous oxide was the most common inhalant used among college students.
- Binge drinkers (11 percent) were nearly four times as likely as non-binge drinkers (3 percent) to report ever using inhalants.
|Table 1. Prevalence and Recency of Substance Use Among Texas University Students: 1997
|Any Illicit Drug
Illicit Substance Use
- Twenty-three percent of all students have used an illicit drug in the past year, and 14 percent have used an illicit drug in the past month (Table 1).
- The most significant predictors for current illicit drug use were being a binge drinker in high school and in college, and considering participation in the arts, music, and drama to be very important.
- Of all illicit drugs, marijuana was the most popular. Twenty-nine percent of all students have used marijuana during their lifetimes; 11 percent of students have used it during the past month.
- Males (15 percent) were twice as likely as females (7 percent) to smoke marijuana in the past month. Anglos and students who came from wealthier families were also more likely to smoke marijuana in the past month.
- Five percent of college students reported using powder cocaine at least once during their lifetimes, and 1 percent of students reported using powder cocaine in the past month.
- Less than 2 percent of students have ever used crack cocaine.
- Ten percent of all students reported ever using uppers; only 2 percent of students have used them in the past month.
- Six percent of students have ever used downers during their lifetimes; only 2 percent of students have used downers in the past month.
Heroin and Other Opiates
- Less than 1 percent of students reported ever using heroin.
- About 8 percent of students reported ever using other opiates (codeine, demerol, percodan, and others); 2 percent of students have used other opiates during the past month.
- Twelve percent of students reported using psychedelics at least once during their lifetimes, and 3 percent of students reported use during the past month.
- The use of psychedelics such as mushrooms, mescaline, or PCP was more popular among college students than LSD.
- Less than 8 percent of students reported using Ecstasy, GHB, Ketamine, or Nexus in their lifetimes; 1 percent of students have used these club drugs in the past month.
Comparisons to College Students Nationwide
- Findings on past-year and past-month substance use were remarkably similar between college students in Texas and college students nationwide, with the exception of past-year marijuana use. The percentage of marijuana users in Texas was slightly lower (18 percent) than the percentage of marijuana users nationwide (24 percent).
- College students in Texas also tended to binge drink less than students nationwide. The percentage of binge drinkers on campuses nationwide was 44 percent, compared to 29 percent on Texas campuses.
Other Risky Behavior Associated with Substance Misuse
Gambling and Problem Gambling
- Sixty-eight percent of college students in Texas said they have placed a bet for money within the past year. This percentage was nearly identical to that of adults (68 percent) and teenagers (67 percent) in the general population of Texas.
- The lottery was the most popular betting activity. Fifty-four percent of all college students reported playing the lottery in the past year.
- Among all students, only 0.3 percent scored as pathological gamblers, and only 0.7 percent more scored as problem gamblers, meaning that a total of about 1 percent of college students could be considered problem or pathological gamblers. These percentages were significantly lower than those found among teens and adults interviewed as part of the Texas surveys of gambling behavior, which found combined percentages of problem and pathological gambling to be 12 percent for teens aged 14 through 17, almost 8 percent for young adults aged 18 through 24, and 3 percent for adults overall.
- While problem/pathological gamblers represented about 1 percent of all students who had gambled in the past year, they represented 3 percent of binge drinkers who had gambled, 6 percent of students who reported any negative consequences as a result of their drinking, and 9 percent of students who described themselves as heavy or problem drinkers.
Drinking and Driving
- About 39 percent of students who drank alcohol in the past month said they have driven after drinking within the past month, and 15 percent said they have driven after drinking five or more drinks (Figure 2). Thirteen percent of all students believed they could consume four or more drinks in an hour and still drive safely.
- Many students served as designated drivers (50 percent) and took advantage of designated drivers (42 percent). Unfortunately, about 21 percent of students still reported riding as a passenger with a drunk driver in the past month, and some students (14 percent) reported drinking more than one drink when they last served as a designated driver.
- Among students who drank alcohol in the past month, binge drinkers were more likely than non-binge drinkers to drive after drinking, drive after consuming five or more drinks, and believe they could still drive safely after drinking more than one drink.
- About 18 percent of sexually active students reported they were drinking the last time they had sex, and about 3 percent said they were using drugs the last time they had sex.
- Among sexually active students who have drunk alcohol in the past year, 8 percent said that at least once they failed to use protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as a result of drinking alcohol.
- Men were more likely than women to be sexually active, to have been drinking alcohol the last time they had sex, and to have ever failed to use protection as a result of drinking.
- Members of fraternities/sororities, students with two or more sexual partners, binge drinkers, and alcohol abusers were more likely to fail to use protection as result of drinking alcohol.
Consequences of Substance Misuse
- Students believed alcohol abuse was much more of a problem on campus than drug abuse. Forty-seven percent believed heavy alcohol use was a “major” problem, but only 12 percent of students believed drug abuse was a “major” problem.
- Of students who have drunk alcohol in the past year, 52 percent have had a hangover; 30 percent have regretted something that they did while under the influence of alcohol; 25 percent have argued with a friend; 19 percent have had temporary memory loss; 9 percent have physically hurt themselves; 6 percent have caused property damage; and 5 percent have gotten into trouble with the police as a result of drinking.
- The misuse of alcohol is related to poor grades. Binge drinkers were less likely than non-binge drinkers to earn A’s and more likely to receive C’s, D’s, and F’s. Binge drinkers were also nearly five times as likely (54 percent) as non-binge drinkers (11 percent) to miss class due to drinking, and they were nearly four times as likely (39 percent) as non-binge drinkers (10 percent) to fall behind in school work due to drinking.
- Among students who have used drugs in the past year, 39 percent reported having a hangover, 18 percent reported falling behind in school, 15 percent reported having had temporary memory loss, and 7 percent reported having withdrawal symptoms as a result of using drugs.
Current Need for Intervention Services and Students' Treatment Experience
- Sixteen percent of all Texas college students were abusing drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the survey, meaning that they have suffered six or more negative experiences due to their substance use since the beginning of the school year.
- Only 8 percent of binge drinkers and 14 percent of alcohol abusers believed they had a drinking problem. The students who were abusing alcohol at the time of the survey and admitted they had a drinking problem represented about 2 percent of the entire college population (Table 2).
- Students who were abusing alcohol and who did not believe they had a drinking problem may represent the students most in need of services but least likely to take advantage of them. These students (86 percent of all alcohol abusers and 13 percent of the entire student body) might benefit from education and intervention that encourages recognition of their problems and provides strategies for dealing with them.
- Three percent of all students reported that they have ever wanted to reduce or stop their use of drugs, but could not. Less than 1 percent of all students were abusing drugs at the time of the survey and admitted that they had a drug problem.
- About 3 percent of all students have received counseling or treatment for an alcohol and/or drug related problem since starting college.
|Table 2. Percentage of College Students in Need of Intervention or Treatment Services: Texas, 1997
|Students who abuse alcohol
|Students who abuse drugs
|Students who abuse either alcohol or drugs
|Need and Motivation
|Students who abuse alcohol and believe they have a problem
|Students who abuse drugs and believe they have a problem
|Students who abuse alcohol and/or drugs and believe they have a problem
Student Knowledge and Opinions of Substance-Related Policies and Programs of Universities
- The majority of students reported that their universities allowed drinking but had specific policies to discourage drunkenness, prevent student drinking, and/or encourage responsible drinking.
- About 90 percent of all students said they would support their university if it were to require the offering of non-alcoholic beverages when alcohol is served at campus events, if it were to make the rules concerning alcohol more clear, and if it were to provide more alcohol-free events. About 75 percent would like to see stricter enforcement of rules and the offering of alcohol-free dormitories.
- Fewer than half of all students said they have received information from their universities about the dangers of drinking. Some 42 percent have received information about the dangers of alcohol overdose, 41 percent have received information about the long term health effects of heavy drinking, and 40 percent have received information about how to recognize someone with a drinking problem.
- Because of the high prevalence of alcohol misuse on college campuses in Texas, the misuse of alcohol should be a major focus for prevention and intervention programs.
- Programs and public awareness initiatives can help to change the misperception that binge drinking and alcohol abuse are normal behaviors on campus. University-wide studies and awareness campaigns should emphasize the percentage of students who do not misuse alcohol, rarely drink, or do not drink at all so that students can begin to sense that responsible drinking or abstinence, rather than binge drinking, is the norm.
- Because many students do not respect the legal drinking age of 21, community members and university representatives should take a more active stance and work together to enforce the legal drinking age.
- Many students began to misuse alcohol prior to college. Since drinking behaviors begin in high school, high school prevention and intervention programs need to be strengthened.
- Alcohol abuse prevention programs should target those students who are at greater risk: men, Anglos, Hispanics, and wealthier students. Students at higher risk also included those majoring in agriculture and business and students who participate in particular organizations, such as male intercollegiate sports and fraternities/sororities.
- Despite being aware of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, many students still engaged in drunk driving and/or rode with intoxicated drivers. Universities should take an active role in setting up and promoting designated driver programs on and around campus.
- Campus organizations and university administrators should incorporate discussions about the misuse of alcohol and risky sex in prevention and intervention initiatives.