CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) — Far from being health-conscious role models, college athletes tend to binge drink and get into more alcohol-related trouble than other students, a study shows.
The study, the largest yet linking participation in college sports to increased alcohol use, appears in the May issue of the Journal of American College Health.
The survey covered 51,483 students on 125 campuses. It found that college athletes consumed an average of 7.34 drinks a week — 78 percent more than did students who were not athletes, who averaged 4.12 drinks.
Team leaders drank even more — more than twice as much as other students, 8.25 drinks per week. Male students outdrank females, but alcohol use increased along with athletic participation for both sexes.
“Students involved in social groups tend to drink more,” said Jami Leichliter, lead author of the study and assistant director at the Core Institute of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
But she said the degree of alcohol-related problems among team leaders surprised researchers. Compared to others, students who identified themselves as team leaders reported higher rates of hangovers, impaired academic work, trouble with police, drunken driving, violence and sexual misconduct resulting from the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Although the survey forms completed by students did not ask about reasons for drinking, Leichliter said it was probably a result of pressure — and the urge to celebrate.
“They have a work hard, play hard ethic,” she said. “Alcohol is seen as a way to let loose.”
Henry Wechsler, a social psychologist who studies college drinking for the Harvard University School of Public Health, said the SIUC study confirms previous work on alcohol and athletes.
Student athletes are influenced by sports-heavy alcohol advertising and tend to drink to celebrate and mourn athletic milestones, he said.
“Binge drinking is a highly social activity,” Wechsler said.
“Everybody parties, not only athletes,” said Tavita Tovio, a Southern Illinois sophomore football player from Hawaii. “It’s not something that goes on all the time, mostly just on weekends.”
Ann Marie Rogers, associate athletic director at the University of Florida, said the athletic personality may lead to problems with substance abuse.
“I think athletes often feel that they are indestructible,” she said. “They’re physically strong, they’re gamblers with the kinds of things they do. They live on the edge a bit.”
But she said she’s not convinced that athletes have more problems than another students.
“When a regular student gets in trouble, you never hear about it,” she said.
Leichliter said she doubted public scrutiny played a role in the higher incidence of athlete-reported problems. She said many of the consequences reported by students — such as memory loss and illness — would not have been detectable by others.
The anonymous survey was conducted between October 1994 and May 1996 at 125 universities that agreed to participate in the institute’s annual alcohol survey.
The schools represented public and private schools of all sizes and from all parts of the country. Student samples from each school were designed to be representative of the student population at that campus, according to researchers.
Among students who said they were not involved in athletics, 36 percent reported binge drinking — defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting — in the two weeks before taking the survey.
Researchers said 54.4 percent of college athletes reported binge drinking, as did 58 percent of team leaders.
Men had higher rates of binge drinking then women. About 60 percent of male athletes and 47 percent of female athletes reported binge drinking.