This time of year, hundreds of thousands of college students flock to the sunny beaches and coastal paradises for what has turned into a right of passage – spring break.
From Nevada to Florida and across the U.S., alcohol consumption has become as synonymous with spring break as palm trees and bathing suits. While some students who participate in spring break may not drink at all, and others may drink in moderation, binge drinking is more common than you might expect, and nearly half of spring break students overconsume alcohol during their trip.
We surveyed 889 former high school and college students who traveled on spring break in the last five years to learn more about their experience firsthand. We asked about their biggest regrets, the amount of alcohol they consumed, and the kinds of sexual activities they participated in while away.
What They Wish They Hadn’t Done
When you think of spring break, the first things that come to mind might be the parties on the beach, sunny locations, and crowds of college students. While most of this is accurate, there’s another side to spring break in the U.S. that isn’t all good times and sunshine. Spring break has a complicated history, and even locations like Panama City Beach – that are known for their spring break festivities – have started putting laws and ordinances in place to deter crowds and drinking.
We asked almost 900 former high school and college students who participated in spring break in the last five years what their biggest regrets were, and roughly a third told us it was either alcohol consumption or sexual activity. Binge drinking and spring break seem to go hand in hand, and the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption can have a tremendous impact on the mind of a teenager.
While fewer participants identified drugs as their biggest regret, over 10 percent of participants regretted drug usage while on spring break. Less than 10 percent said issues like location, friends, or the cost of spring break were their biggest regrets.
Spring Break in North America
When it comes to spring break locations, a couple of places are virtually synonymous with the images and videos you see of college students engaging in spring break festivities.
We found that Cancun, Mexico, was the most popular destination of current and former students surveyed. While partying and vacations may be the first things that come to mind when you think of Cancun, locals who live in the area don’t always have the nicest opinions of the crowds that flock to their beaches during spring break.
Top spring break destinations in the U.S. included multiple locations in Florida like Miami Beach, Tampa, Panama City Beach, Key West, and Daytona Beach. Recently, during spring break in Miami, police were forced to close a local street because of partying gone awry. In Panama City Beach, one of the original spring break destinations, residents have found an increase in crimes related to sexual assault and violence as crowds peak during spring break activities. Even Florida institutions that may see a significant financial gain from spring break visitors have acknowledged the profit may not be worth the adverse effects caused by the partying.
Other popular locations across the country for spring break included Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Austin, Texas.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported that over half of full-time college students, even those who are underage, have consumed alcohol in the past month. That’s more than young adults in the same age group who don’t attend college. They also found that over a third of college students acknowledged binge drinking in the past month, and that more than 1 in 10 reported heavy drinking over the same period. The NIAAA also found that nearly 100,000 college students annually report sexual assault or date rape as a result of drinking, and that over 1,800 college students die every year from alcohol-related injuries.
We found that of the hundreds of former students surveyed about their spring break experience, over a quarter admitted to blacking out from too many drinks, and 1 in 10 operated a motor vehicle while they were impaired from drugs or alcohol. While percentages were slightly lower, some former students also experienced serious fallout from their spring break activities like alcohol poisoning, hospitalization, and legal trouble.
Too Many Drinks
Nearly a third of former spring break students admitted to consuming between four and seven drinks every day, and almost another third admitted to having eight drinks or more each day during spring break. Depending on the amount of time elapsed between drinking, almost two-thirds of those surveyed potentially classified as binge drinkers. Binge drinking is more common among young adults in general, and consequences of this excessive drinking can lead to serious side effects, in addition to unintentional injuries and activities.
While we found binge drinking was more common among students who were over 21 years old at the time, underage drinking during spring break was still common. Less than a quarter of students who were underage didn’t drink at all, while over a quarter drank between four and seven drinks each day.
Unfortunately, 11 percent of former spring break students over the age of 21 drove while under the influence, and nearly 10 percent of those who were under the age of 21 said the same. The CDC has found that students under the age of 21 are 17 times more likely to die in a car accident when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent compared to when they haven’t been drinking at all.
Sex and Spring Break
For college students, alcohol and sexual assault often go hand in hand. Research continues to link to the correlation between binge drinking and sexual assault among college students. It’s evident alcohol is often involved in sexual activity during spring break considering the second most common regret respondents reported was sex.
Women were more likely to abstain from sex completely. Nearly half of women polled told us they didn’t have sex at all while they were away for spring break. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to admit to having sex with at least one partner, and over a quarter of men surveyed had between two and three sexual partners during spring break.
The CDC reports rates of STDs (particularly among young people between the ages of 15 and 24) are growing exponentially, and half of the 20 million newly contracted infections each year occur among people in this age group. While fewer, our study found two percent of women and three percent of men admitted to sexual intercourse with six partners or more during their spring break activities.
Indiscriminate Sexual Liaisons
Our survey results found men were far more likely to have sex with a stranger during spring break than women were. Almost two-thirds of men had sexual intercourse with a stranger, while the remaining men said their partner was someone from a group of friends.
While some STDs like chlamydia or syphilis can be treated to control the symptoms and effects of the outbreak, other more serious STDs can also be contracted. Over a quarter of all new HIV infections in the U.S. occur among young people between the ages of 13 and 24 years old. Of those infected with HIV, four out of five are men. Other STDs, if undetected or untreated, can have serious health-related side effects that last a lifetime.
While about two-thirds of male and female participants used some form of protection during intercourse, more than a third used no sexual protection while on spring break.
Spring Break and Illicit Drugs
In addition to engaging in risky sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex, excessive spring break drinking may also lead to other dangerous behaviors. Research has shown a correlation between alcohol consumption and illicit drug use.
Those surveyed identified drugs as a common spring break regret, and we found that over a quarter of former spring break students admitted to consuming marijuana. While legal in some parts of the country, marijuana is still the most commonly used illicit substance in the U.S. Research has shown students who consume marijuana are more likely to suffer academically, and users are also more likely to consume other substances like cocaine and methamphetamines.
Between five and seven percent of former spring break students admitted to consuming MDMA, cocaine, hallucinogens, and benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium. These substances can have serious health effects and can even lead to death.
Spring Break Hot Spots, by Substance
Some spring break destinations may be known for their sandy beaches and warm weather, but they may also have a reputation for certain substance consumption as well.
Almost half of those who spent their spring break in South Padre Island, Texas, consumed illicit substances while there. This particular beach in the south of Texas is known to be closely located next to certain drug trafficking hubs and has had a tragic history of college students traveling there to consume narcotics during spring break. In 2013, over 100 arrests occurred in a four-day span during spring break. Almost 40 percent of those who spent the season at South Padre Island also admitted to using marijuana while visiting.
We found that more than 1 in 10 students who traveled to Cancun, Mexico, admitted to using cocaine, and nearly one-fifth traveling to San Diego, California, consumed MDMA.
While alcohol consumption was the most regretted behavior during spring break for the almost 900 former students surveyed, spring breakers in Tampa and Daytona Beach, Florida, were the most likely to report alcohol poisoning, with more than 1 in 10 admitting they experienced the serious side effects of over consuming alcohol.
More Than Just Fun in the Sun
For many college students, spring break is a fun time with friends at exciting beach locations. However, for many of the students polled, that fun time turned into dangerous activity and guilt-ridden behavior. While some students didn’t drink at all, many consumed enough to qualify as binge drinkers.
With so many students participating in excessive drinking behavior, it’s important for parents and students to recognize the signs of alcohol dependency. ProjectKnow.com provides educational resources aimed at informing teens and parents about addiction and treatment options. Visit us online to learn more about the recovery process and options available to you or a loved one in need of help
We surveyed 889 young people who have gone on a spring break trip with friends during high school or college in the past five years. We asked them about regrets they had after the trip, as well as the risky behaviors they participated in during spring break. For the list of spring break vice capitals, we only listed locales with 20 or more travelers.