Drug and Alcohol Use on College Campuses Linked to Sexual Assault

The dangers of drug and alcohol abuse are fairly well known. Certain recreational drug uses have a high risk of sudden death. Beyond that, using drugs and alcohol contributes to the erosion of your physical health, which can become irreparable and also result in premature death. And there is also the concern about addiction.

Addiction may be one of the primary concerns for people who abuse drugs and alcohol. Addiction is a serious chronic disease that creates additional health problems. Overcoming addiction requires professional help and can be a very lengthy process.

Drug and alcohol abuse have some other side effects that people do not talk about as much. One of those is sexual assault. Whether it is the victim who is under the influence of substances and unable to protect his or herself, or the attacker who is under the influence, drugs and alcohol play an unfortunate role in many sexual assaults.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse on College Campuses

The excessive use of drugs and alcohol on college campuses, unfortunately, does not come as a surprise to most people. College has always been known for experimentation, and drugs and alcohol have been part of that ritual for decades. Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, in fact, were first popular among college students and sometimes even promoted by their professors.

Maybe college is the perfect combination of young adults not fully capable of making sound decisions and a communal living environment devoid of strict parental control. College campuses tend to exude a vibe of safety, separated from the real world in many ways. College students are still experiencing their final developmental stage and have not fully embraced the concept of mortality.

For some, there is tremendous pressure to succeed in college, both academically and socially. Students may stay up all night studying and look for any advantage, natural or chemical, they can find. Alcohol often acts as liquid courage in social situations. College students are still at the age where they have an overwhelming desire to fit in, which is one reason why drug trends spread quickly among college students.

Whatever the reasons, there is no denying that college campuses are rife with drug and alcohol abuse. Recent studies track the drug use trends on college campuses. In 2014, daily use of marijuana among college students was at its highest since 1980. More college students are using marijuana than cigarettes.

Here are some college drug use statistics from 2014 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

According to a 2010 national survey, 63.3% of college students used alcohol regularly. Among students enrolled in college full time, 42.2% were binge drinkers and 15.6% were classified as heavy drinkers. College students were ahead of their non-college peers in all three categories: regular alcohol use, binge drinking and heavy drinking.

Percentage of college students intoxicated in the last month

The consequences of drug use can also be felt on college campuses. Every year at least 1,825 college students die of alcohol-related injuries. A number of news reports in recent years illuminate the drug abuse crisis on many college campuses. Here are just a few examples:

1,825 students died due to alcohol-related injuries

Drug and alcohol abuse by college students leads to serious health problems, addiction and death.

How Drug Use Leads to Sexual Assault

One side effect of most recreational drugs is lowered inhibitions. That feel-good feeling you get from drugs is accompanied by a reduced anxiety. Drugs get into your brain and make some changes that you have no control over. Most of the action takes place in the pleasure centers of your brain. Drugs change the way you register sensory perceptions, which is why you may feel like the room is spinning or hear voices that aren’t there.

Making decisions while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a challenge. Because your perceptions are distorted, you may not know what you are doing. The balcony you are about to jump off of just doesn’t look that high. Or you are not able to think three steps ahead of your actions, as you would when you were sober, to understand that after you jump, you will land on the hard surface below and probably get seriously injured.

decision making while under the influence

People who are under the influence of recreational substances do not make the same decisions they would when they are thinking clearly. They tend to put themselves in dangerous situations because their sense of fear is reduced. Sexual activity is one of the serious decisions that someone who is high on drugs might take lightly.

In a group of college students at a party, where everyone is abusing drugs and alcohol, many questionable activities are likely to take place. No one is using good judgement because they can’t. Their brains are responding to the flood of feel-good chemicals they’ve ingested or injected. No one can properly perceive the inherent dangers of having sex with multiple partners or hooking up with an intravenous drug user, for example.

In addition, the desire to get more drugs caused by addiction can lead people to commit desperate acts. In the absence of funding to buy the drugs they crave, people are often willing to trade sex for drugs. This, of course, is a dangerous practice and leaves college students vulnerable to sexual assault.

Drug abuse leads to sexual assault by lowering inhibitions and reducing everyone’s ability to make sound decisions. The lowered inhibitions are often followed by extreme risk-taking behaviors. It is not hard to see how the scenario of college students drinking and drugging goes horribly wrong.

Understanding Sexual Assault

When it comes to discussions of college student behavior, drugs and alcohol, and sexual assault, lines are sometimes blurred. Sexual assault is a harsh term, and people often want to debate whether their actions really fit the charges.

Sexual assault is defined by the Department of Justice as “…any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

Having explicit consent for any sexual behavior is the essence of this definition. When someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are not able to give consent. When your perceptions of the world around you are distorted, you are not capable of giving your consent for anything.

Consent is unable to be given while under the influence

Considering the legal definition of sexual assault and understanding the condition college students are in when they binge drink or abuse drugs, it is easy to see why there is a link between drug abuse and sexual assaults on college campuses. Essentially, any sexual activity that takes place when alcohol and drugs are involved can be defined as sexual assault.

Drugs and Sexual Assault

Because drugs and alcohol result in the diminished capacity to make good decisions, they are often used as the vehicle to facilitate a sexual assault. The perpetrator of such an assault may not set out to commit a crime and may not be trying to hurt anyone, but when they are the aggressor in a sexual act with someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the result is sexual assault. Even if the perpetrator of a sexual assault is under the influence of drugs themselves, as is often the case in college campus incidents, a crime has taken place.

Drug-facilitated sexual assaults happen when a perpetrator forces a victim to consume drugs without their knowledge or the victim consumes the drugs or alcohol willingly but is then not able to refuse the forced sexual activity. The incidents of drug-facilitated sexual assault on college campuses may be higher than in other settings because there are many opportunities to take advantage of a drug-charged situation.

696,000 students are assulted by another student who's under the influence

Every year, approximately 696,000 college students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking or taking drugs. Drugs not only impair the victim’s ability to consent to sexual activity, but they also increase the aggressiveness with which the perpetrator pursues their target. With lowered inhibitions, people can become overly aggressive in social situations.

Research shows that alcohol intoxication, for example, increases the level of aggressive responses in men. Whether it has the same effect on women has not been proven because a majority of the studies were done with male populations. The connection between intoxication and aggression has been clearly demonstrated, though. It is reasonable to conclude that since college students are abusing drugs and alcohol at increasing rates, there is a link to the increased incidents of sexual assault on college campuses as well.

students who were assaulted were under the influence

In 2003, a study found that at least 80% of college students who were sexually assaulted were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol use are not only linked with the perpetrators of sexual assault — they are also connected to the assault victims as well. People who are heavily sedated by drugs and alcohol may be seen as easy targets by people who perpetrate sexual assault.

Sexual Assault on College Campuses

While more sexual assaults have been reported on college campuses in recent years, it is difficult to say whether the incidents themselves are on the rise. Sexual assault is a crime that frequently goes unreported. Only 32 out of every 100 rapes are reported to police, and only 7 of those lead to an arrest. There is no way of knowing exactly how many sexual assaults occur on college campuses because they are not all reported.

One of the links between substance abuse and sexual assault is shame. Although substance abuse among college students seems more the norm than the exception, there is still a lot of shame associated with the habit. College students might be proud to announce their partying habits, but they still do not want anyone to know their drug use is out of control. Addiction is surrounded by guilt and shame. People suffering from addiction try to hide their problem and the uncharacteristic behaviors it leads to.

There is also a lot of shame surrounding sexual assault, even for the victims. Since so many college student sexual assault victims are inebriated at the time of the incident, they often suffer feelings of guilt and shame. They tend to take on the blame for what happened to them and therefore do not want to tell anyone. These victims often feel complicit in the crime.

Victims and perpetrators who are under the influence Even victims of sexual assault who are not under the influence of drugs often feel shameful about the incident. They assign themselves some type of culpability for not seeing it coming, putting themselves in a vulnerable position or trusting the wrong person. This is especially true in the case of rapes perpetrated by someone the victim knows, as the victim may want to believe the perpetrator is a kind person not capable of sexual violence.

There has been an increased focus on sexual assaults on college campuses in recent years, as some more prominent cases are reported in the media. Here are some statistics The Washington Post reported about sexual assault on college campuses in 2012:

Even more startling in The Washington Post report is the fact that several prestigious liberal arts colleges had some of the highest rates of reported sexual assaults. Although the number of reports at larger universities tends to be higher, the rate of reporting is lowest at those big institutions. Many colleges and universities are working to improve the process for reporting sexual assaults so that fewer incidents remain secret.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Assault in College

Alcohol, highly abused on college campuses, is associated more than any illegal substances with violent crimes, particularly murder, rape and assault. At least half of all of the violent crimes and assaults that are committed each year involve a perpetrator, a victim or both who are under the influence of alcohol.alcohol abuse leads to 744,000 assults per year

Alcohol is a factor in approximately two-thirds of the assaults that involve a victim being attacked by someone they know well, like a boyfriend or ex-spouse. In addition, 31% of attacks by strangers are alcohol-related.

Most violent assaults between two people, whether they are strangers or known to each other, involve alcohol. Here is the breakdown:

  • Almost 500,000 incidents annually are perpetrated by someone under the influence of alcohol on an intimate acquaintance.
  • Alcohol is involved in at least 118,000 incidents of family violence each year.
  • Alcohol abuse leads to 744,000 assaults per year between people who are only distantly acquainted with each other.

When you narrow these statistics to criminal activity on college campuses, they become even more alarming. The use of alcohol is involved in 90% of date rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses. A full 95% of all violent crimes on college campuses include alcohol use by the victim or the perpetrator, or both.

Alcohol and date rapes

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns of the dangers of alcohol abuse in college as a public health problem. The consequences of college alcohol and drug abuse are not just sexual assaults, although that is serious enough. There are also academic problems, a lifetime of addiction, and other mental illnesses that result from drug abuse on college campuses.

  • Binge-drinking college students are six times more likely to get poor grades on tests and projects.
  • Academic consequences of drug and alcohol abuse include missing classes and falling behind.
  • Students who drink regularly are five times more likely to miss class.
  • At least 150,000 students each year develop a health problem as a result of excessive drinking.
  • An average of 5% of college students who drink heavily attempt suicide each year.

Learn More

Researchers continue to investigate the connection between drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assaults in college. The two definitely occur together: Where there is more alcohol and drug abuse, the rates of sexual assault are higher, and this happens consistently on college campuses.

The next step is to understand the relationship so prevention can happen. There is some argument that binge drinking, for example, does not cause sexual assaults, although the two can be closely linked. Since a high incidence of binge drinking in college tends to accompany a high incidence of sexual assault, getting the drinking under control, whether it is a cause of the assaults or not, would potentially reduce the number of sexual assaults in college.

According to an article in Men’s Fitness, here are some signs that you could be a binge drinker:

  • You start neglecting other things in your life, like missing classes or not turning in your assignments on time.
  • You start taking big risks or doing embarrassing things when you drink that you wouldn’t normally do.
  • You exceed your own limits, setting out to have just one drink and then having several instead.
  • You only drink one night a week, but you drink to excess each time.
  • Your family and friends express concern for you.
  • You black out or cannot remember parts of your night of drinking.

Reducing binge drinking in college will have other positive effects as well. Binge drinking leads to addiction and an array of serious health problems. It is also the cause of many fatal accidents and alcohol poisoning. Eliminating drug and alcohol abuse in college would be a positive change for everyone.

If you think you or someone you know has a problem with binge drinking, contact 12 Keys right away. We can answer your questions about substance abuse and help you get a clearer understanding of the dangers of the situation.

At 12 Keys, we are experienced in dealing with all sorts of addiction issues, including those of college-aged young adults. Our compassionate staff is even adept at treating a dual diagnosis, which is addiction and another mental illness occurring at the same time. Our individualized treatment programs are designed to meet our clients where they are and guide them through a recovery process that puts them on the road to a healthy, happy, substance-free life.

View Our Accommodations

Speak to an Expert





Stay in Touch