Frequently Asked Questions

Any drinking under the legal age of 21 is in violation of Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations.

In the early 1980s, the shift of the drinking age from 18 to 21 significantly decreased drunk driving fatalities (even when you control for other factors)[1].  While it’s often argued that it would make more sense to have a drinking age of 18 (the age of legal independence), the plain fact is that the higher drinking age has saved a lot of lives.  Because of this, it’s very unlikely that the legal age will be lowered to 18 anytime soon.

[1] See study by Fell et al. as well as Hingson, Ralph W. and Aaron M. White, “Costs and Consequences (Morbidity and Mortality) Associated with Adolescent and College Drinking and Related Problenms” and McCart et al. “The effects of minimum drinking legal age 21 laws on alcohol-related driving in the United States.”

Binge drinking is defined by the NIAAA as any drinking that raises one’s BAC over .08.  In practice, this usually means drinking four or more drinks (for women) or five or more drinks (for men) in one sitting – about two hours.

Binge drinking is used in discussions of alcohol because it demarcates a threshold of drinking above which a lot of negative short- and long-term effects kick in.   These harms include blacking out, injuries, alcohol poisoning (can be fatal), alcoholism, liver disease, and damage to other organs.

Blacking out is a loss of memory - not being able to remember what happened because your brain has lost the ability to form new memories due to intoxication.  Passing out is losing consciousness and not being able to be awakened.

Some studies have suggested a correlation between very light drinking and good health.  The effects of heavy episodic drinking on health (see “binge drinking” above) are uniformly negative.  There are many obvious short-term risks such as injury, alcohol poisoning, and sleep deprivation (alcohol actually disables the body from going into REM sleep), but the less obvious long-term effects can be even worse.  You can read the detailed account of the long-term effects of alcohol.

Adderall (similar to Ritalin) is a prescription drug for ADHD treatment.  It is sometimes abused by non-ADHD college students in hopes that it will enhance focus and academic performance, but the effects of these drugs on non-ADHD students actually produce mixed results and can be counterproductive (as well as being illegal and dangerous). For more details, see this brief article on Adderall and academic pressure.

Yale does not typically take disciplinary action against students simply for consuming alcohol.  Intoxication is addressed as a medical issue that may need short- and long-term attention.  However, students are still responsible for all their actions regardless of whether or not they intoxicated, so in cases of vandalism or assault, intoxication is not an excuse and may be viewed as an exacerbating factor.

Serving or supplying alcohol to students under 21 is also illegal and in violation of Yale policy, and may result in disciplinary action.  The same applies to possession, distribution, and use of illegal drugs or other prohibited substances.  Consequences for any of these violations range from a written reprimand to suspension or expulsion.

You should get in touch with one of Yale’s full-time substance abuse counselors, who are happy to field questions about alcohol issues of all sorts and levels:


Marie Baker, Yale Health Substance Abuse Counselor
(203) 432-1891

Graduate and Professional Students:

Maury Steigman, Yale Health Substance Abuse Counselor
(203) 432-7366

It’s a good idea in this situation to talk about the issue with your dean or froco, as they may have more information about other factors going on behind the scenes.  You can also contact Yale’s substance abuse counselors listed above - they can help clarify the situation and give you some tips.  It may be helpful for you to have a conversation with the friend you’re concerned about, but keep in mind that you’re not a trained counselor, and if this person has a problem with alcohol, a conversation with a professional may be necessary to determine the best way to deal with it.