Abstract There is compelling evidence that college student athletes engage in frequent episodes of heavy drinking and are prone to negative consequences resulting from such use. This study sought to identify risk and protective factors associated with student-athlete drinking and determine if student-athlete risk factors differed from those of non-athletes. Athletes compared to non-athletes reported more exaggerated perceptions of peer heavy drinking and lower sensation seeking and coping and enhancement motives for drinking, suggesting a risk profile distinct from non-athletes. In the overall sample, higher sensation seeking, overestimation of peer heavy drinking, non-use of protective behaviors while drinking, and higher enhancement and coping drinking motives were associated with greater frequency of heavy episodic drinking and more negative drinking consequences. In athletes compared to non-athletes, sensation seeking was more strongly associated with heavy episodic drinking and drinking to cope was more strongly associated with negative alcohol-related consequences. Overall, the results suggest that already proven brief intervention strategies, with minor adaptations related to the roles of sensation seeking and drinking to cope, may be helpful for student athletes.