Undergraduate drinking and academic performance: A prospective investigation with objective measures

Dennis L. Thombs, Scott Olds, Susan J. Bondy, Janice Winchell, Dolly Baliunas, Jürgen Rehm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Objective: Findings from previous prospective research suggest the association between alcohol use and undergraduate academic performance is negligible. This study was designed to address weaknesses of the past research by relying on objective measures of both drinking and academic performance. Method: A prospective study was conducted with repeated measures of exposure to alcohol linked to institutional academic records. Alcohol data were collected in residence halls at a nonselective, midwestern, public university in the United States. A total of 659 first- and second-year undergraduate students were tracked over the course of 15-week semesters. Results: A statistically significant negative association with semester academic performance was found for different alcohol indicators: frequency of breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) above .08, mean BrAC, standard deviation, and maximum BrAC recorded. These associations remained statistically significant when controlled for sociodemographic variables and individual level confounders, but the effect sizes were relatively small with a contribution to explained variance of less than 1%. When additionally adjusted for residence hall building, all alcohol indicators no longer reached statistical significance (p = ≥05). Conclusions: Consistent with past prospective research, the magnitude of the association between undergraduate alcohol use and academic performance is small when the effects of high school academic aptitude and performance are accounted for in multivariable analyses. This is the fi rst study to fi nd that living environment may have a robust effect on the academic achievement of undergraduates. Future research should examine more closely the relation between residence and academic performance and the role that alcohol use may play in creating residential environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)776-785
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009


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