Alcohol and Academics

Alcohol use can result in missing class, doing poorly on tests or projects, disciplinary issues, or other problems.

The following statistics show on average, students who drink the most alcohol receive the lowest grades:


Students who are out late partying often oversleep and miss classes. Someone who is hung over is more likely to sleep in, or may be too sick to attend class. People who party several times a week can fall behind on their homework, projects, or papers – causing a low GPA and even dropping out of school.

Source: Presley, CA, Leichliter, JS, and Meilman, PW. Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Finding from 1995, 1996, and 1997. A Report to College Presidents. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1999.

There is also evidence that alcohol use affects some of the essential brain functions needed for learning. In their book Buzzed, (revised in 2003) authors Kuhn, Scwartzwelder and Wilson describe five areas where mental functioning can be compromised.

Memory Foundation

Memory foundation is the ability to form new memories, not the ability to recall information that was learned in the past. A chronic drinker may be able to recall something from their childhood, but may not be able to remember what they ate for lunch four hours ago. Also, the richness and detail of the memories during the past few years of drinking might be significantly less than those in earlier years. On mental ability tests, chronic drinkers often perform poorly on retention skills.

Abstract Thinking

The brain interprets different events, observations, and happenings in a variety of ways. Additionally, one of the major tasks of the brain is to distinguish the difference between concrete, obvious, and surface reasoning, and abstract thinking such as word puzzles and interpreting stories. Overall, abstract thinking is more difficult for chronic drinkers.

Problem Solving

Similar to thinking in an abstract way, problem solving often involves using different strategies and reasoning skills. We also need mental flexibility, the ability to switch strategies and approaches to problems in order to solve them efficiently. In testing situations, heavy drinkers find themselves taking much longer to find solutions because they get stuck in one particular method of problem solving.

Attention and Concentration

There is some evidence that chronic drinkers have a hard time keeping their attention focused and maintaining their concentration. Attentiveness and concentration are mental functions used in the classroom on a daily basis and are critical parts of the learning process. The degree to which these functions are affected depends on how much alcohol is consumed. Chronic long-term abusers of alcohol experience the major effects. However, "social drinkers" also develop deficits in their mental functioning. The more alcohol a person has when they go out, the more likely they are to experience negative effects.

Perceptions of Emotion

Recent studies show that alcoholics acquire the inability to perceive emotion in people's language. The specific brain function that allows us to perceive attitude and emotion in conversation is impaired in heavy drinkers. It is important to realize that this deficiency is one of perception and does not reflect the drinker's own emotional state.