That's the portrait painted by a new, comprehensive report tying together a range of recent research on college substance abuse, supplemented with some of its own new survey data.
The report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, argues that substance abuse isn't an inevitable rite of passage for young adults. Rather, it argues a particular culture of excessive consumption has flourished on college campuses, and calls on educators to take bolder stands against students and alumni to combat it.
"If they make this a priority they can do something about it," said Joseph Califano, chairman and president of the center, who among other steps called on colleges and the NCAA to stop allowing alcohol advertising during high-profile events like the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
The report, released Thursday, relies largely on research that has already appeared in various forms, but assembles it to emphasize findings particular to college students.
Among the highlights:
Young adults in general have higher abuse rates, so a higher rate for college students is to be expected. But other research indicates that college students drink more than high school peers who don't go to college, said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health, who published similar findings in 2002.
"The percentage of kids who drink and binge drink is essentially the same between 1993 and 2005, but the intensity of the drinking has dramatically changed," Califano said. "There's an intensity to the consumption we see here that we don't see in the general population."
At the University of Kentucky, longtime administrator Victor Hazard says he too has noticed a change, with more students drinking simply to get drunk.
"To the extent there is such a thing as a social drinker, it was more of a meet-and-greet type of environment in the earlier years when I was here," said Hazard, Kentucky's associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
Now, he said, students are "drinking to become intoxicated as fast as they possibly can."
Carol Falkowski, director of research communications for the Hazelden Foundation, an addiction treatment and research group, said too many students are getting the message that excessive drinking is OK.
"It's getting more intense," she said. "Drinking games that were happening in private parties or houses or bonfires 10 years ago are now happening in public venues. That to me reflects a sort of larger acceptance of extreme drinking."
College administrators often say they know campus substance abuse is a problem but say there is little they can do, but the study blames many college administrators for looking away.
Colorado State University got serious after sophomore Samantha Spady drank herself to death, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports. The school now polices and treats problem partiers. It even created America's first college court for students caught abusing drugs and alcohol.
"Things do work, it's just having the will and time and money to implement them," said Roger Vaughan, a Columbia biostatistician involved in the report. "People need to step up and realize this is not a rite of passage, this is not something we should tolerate. If it keeps going, we're going to destroy our best and brightest."