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Cheers! Hundreds Of College Students Aren’t Actually Dying From Binge Drinking

Hundreds of college students aren’t actually dying from binge drinking, despite studies citing a rising number of fatalities caused by excessive drinking, according to the Washington Post.

When news articles seek to emphasize the problem of binge drinking on college campuses, one of the easiest statistics to cite is the high number of drinking-related deaths that happen on campus every year. Supposedly, over 1,800 college students die every year due to excessive drinking.

Not only that, but the number is said to be rising, with deaths surging from only about 1,200 in the 1990s. The rising body count is often explicitly tied to binge drinking; for example, a 2012 article by the Chicago Tribune cited rising binge drinking as the direct cause of the deaths.

The Post, however, finds the truth is substantially more complicated, and the number of deaths directly due to alcohol much lower.

The 1,800 figure, it turns out, is based on a study released in 2005 which estimated that 1,825 potentially alcohol-related deaths occur every year among college students. Three-quarters of those deaths are from traffic accidents where alcohol may have played a role due to any drivers, passengers or pedestrians having at least a .01 blood alcohol content (an amount well below the legal limit). Even a student hit and killed by a drunk 40-year-old driver below the legal limit would have his death added to the “alcohol-related” tally attributed to binge-drinking.

The rest of the death toll mostly comes from other accidents such as drownings and falls. Once again, even a small amount of alcohol is enough for a death to be labeled as potentially alcohol-related. The Post also found that the major driver of alcohol-related deaths appears to be the rising number of people attending college, rather than any surge in deadly behavior.

When one considers only deaths by alcohol poisoning, which have the most obvious relation to binge drinking, the death toll is vastly decreased. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 113 people per year between the ages of 15 and 24 die of alcohol poisoning, and of that total only about a third are college students. That’s fewer than 40 people a year.

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