Treatment of Heavy Drinking in College Students: The College Drinker’s Checkup

  1. The Problem: College-Age Drinking
  2. Solution: An Online Intervention for Heavy Drinkers
  3. How Effective is the CDCU?
  4. Access the CDCU
  5. Alternative Treatment Options for College Drinking

Alcohol on Campus

An extraordinary amount of drinking takes place on college and university campuses. Problems associated with alcohol consumption include increased violence, injuries, car accidents, sexual assaults, and money wasted on tuition when academic performance suffers from excessive partying.
Alcohol on Campus

But how does an individual know when his or her drinking is excessive? And, if their drinking is indeed out of hand, what can be done about it? The College Drinker's Checkup (CDCU) is a readily available resource to help students and administrators address the problem of college drinking.

The Problem: College-Age Drinking

A quick look at the statistics would seem to suggest that college and drinking go hand-in-hand.

Approximately 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol and "about half of the college students who drink, also consume alcohol through binge drinking."1

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy drinking as 5 or more drinks on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.2 Recent studies indicate that:

  • Men and women alike participate in heavy drinking, but women are more likely to exceed weekly limits than men.
  • Men exceed daily limits with comparable frequency to women (27% and 25% respectively).3
There are other factors that also play a role in the rate that students participate in heavy drinking. Research shows that:

  • White students engage in heavy drinking at the highest rates; African Americans at the lowest and Latinos in between the two.4
  • Belonging to a fraternity or sorority appeared to be the greatest predictor of heavy drinking among college students.
  • A national study of college drinking found that 75% of fraternity members and 62% of sorority members engaged in heavy drinking, compared to 48.6% for students who did not participate in the Greek system.5
  • Athletes affiliated with a fraternity or sorority engaged in heavy drinking at the highest rates of all students.6

man passed out from drinking too muchThe problem of college-age drinking is not limited to a specific state or region, but rather affects universities across the United States. This article identifies schools with the highest number of drug and alcohol-related arrests.7

College students are most likely to engage in drinking in social situations. Similarly, their intake increases when they are with others.

Additionally, alcohol consumption often accompanies the use of other drugs. For example, among college students, the incidence of smoking is 3 times higher when they are drinking.8Some students will carry a problem with alcohol into adulthood following their years at college. It is estimated that 72% of adults experience a period of heavy drinking that lasts 3-4 years. Alcohol consumption tends to peak between the ages of 18 and 24. Many college students who drink heavily mature out of those patterns, but their ability to do so will depend on a number of different factors.9

Solution: An Online Intervention for Heavy Drinkers

The College Drinker's Checkup (CDCU)

The College Drinker's Checkup (CDCU) is a computer-delivered intervention (CDI) designed to reduce heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems in college students.10 The checkup is based on the principles of motivational interviewing (MI). Students access the CDCU on-line and responds to a list of questions that are designed to:

  • Assess alcohol use.
  • Develop a better understanding of the individual's drinking, including possible risks associated with it.
  • Help the student consider whether they might want to change their drinking to reduce risks.
  • Understand the different ways they could change if they decide to do so.11

A single session takes about 45 minutes to complete.

The CDCU is a licensed tool that universities may utilize to help students struggling with heavy drinking. The on-line assessment can be used to generate a database of users. Institutions can customize the CDCU to include the following:

  • Logos.
  • University norms.
  • Fields within database to assess outcomes.
  • Sections on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
  • Contact information for questions that users might have.
  • Local lists of resources.

When students screen for risk, the CDCU provides them with an opportunity to develop a plan of action. They might begin by tracking their drinking and then decide to pursue follow-up with resources available to them on-campus or locally.

How Effective is the CDCU?

Alcohol overdoseIt can be daunting to encourage individuals in need of assistance to seek the help they may need. On-line delivery reduces the reluctance that some people may have in sharing their problems with others. As one group of researchers argued, "...web-based delivery may enhance the implementation of brief alcohol interventions."12Two randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have found that the CDCU decreased alcohol use in college students.13

Access the CDCU

These links will direct you to sites where you can learn more information:

Alternative Treatment Options for College Drinking

Alternative treatments for alcohol abuse may be used together with or separately from the CDCU:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or 12 Step programs:

    • Sobriety is maintained by working the 12 steps.
    • Sharing experiences with people struggling with similar problems.
  • SMART Recovery/other non-12 step programs:

    • Focus on self-empowerment.
    • Figure out ways to confront the obstacles faced.
    • Moderate use can be a goal.
  • Group therapy/Individual therapy:

    • Guided by a therapist.
    • In small groups or individually.
  • University counseling centers:

    • Your university may have a counseling center you can attend for free or a nominal fee.
  • University programs for alcohol and other substance abuse problems:

    • Your university may have existing programs or groups you can join to address alcohol or other substance abuse problems.
  • Inpatient options:

    • If you believe that you need inpatient treatment for your alcohol abuse or addiction, call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? to find out more about residential treatment centers.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2015. College Drinking. National Institute of Health. Available at
  2. SAMHSA. Substance Use Disorders. Available at:
  3. Hoeppner, Bettina B., et. al. 2013. Sex Differences in College Student Adherence to NIAAA Drinking Guidelines. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37 (10): 1779-1786.
  4. O'Malley, Patrick, 2002. Epidemiology of alcohol and other drug use among American college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement, S14: 23-39.
  5. U.S. Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. 2002. Fraternity and Sorority Members and Alcohol and Other Drug Use. Available at:
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Work cited.
  7. Available at:
  8. Witkiewitz, Katie, et. al. 2012. Concurrent drinking and smoking among college students: An event-level analysis. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, volume 26 (3): 649-654.
  9. O'Malley, Patrick M. 2005. Maturing out of problematic alcohol use. Alcohol Research & Health, Vol 28(4): 202-204.
  10. Hester, Reid, et. al. 2012. The college drinker's check-up: outcomes of two randomized clinical trials of a computer-delivered intervention. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 26(1): 1-12.
  12. Spijkerman, R., et. al. 2010. Effectiveness of a web-based brief alcohol intervention and added value of normative feedback in reducing underage drinking: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research. December 19, 12(5):e65. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1465. Available at:
  13. Hester, Reid et. al. Work cited.