(flickr user Instant Vantage)
Surprise, surprise: young people like to drink. College can mark a stressful period in a person’s life – new friends, less parental guidance, new responsibilities, and an elevated need for peer recognition. During this transitional period, young people can easily find themselves using alcohol to medicate stress.
But can excessive drinking do more than relieve stress? A new study from the American Sociological Association reveals that binge-drinking college students are actually happier than their non-binge-drinking peers.
But is drinking really the root cause of the mood boost?
What was the study?
The authors’ primary goal was to help those working to reduce high binge drinking rates, as well as to empower students who aren’t interested in the drinking culture.
Researchers surveyed the drinking habits and self-perceived mental health status of 1,600 undergraduate students enrolled in a certain northeastern private liberal arts college. Binge drinking was defined as four drinks for women and five drinks for men in a single sitting, at least once within a two-week period.
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What did the study reveal?
The study found that several factors were at play in how binge drinking affected the subjects’ mental health. First, 64 percent of the students surveyed indulged in binge drinking. Students considered “high status” (white, wealthy, male, heterosexual, and in the Greek system) were more likely to binge drink than students in the “lower status” group (minorities, poorer, female, not heterosexual, and not in the Greek system). Interestingly, “high status” students who didn’t binge drink reported that they were less socially satisfied than peers who did; also students in the “low status” group who did binge drink reported more social happiness than those who didn’t. “Higher-status” students also reported feeling happier and more socially connected on campus.
What does this mean?
On college campuses, where binge drinking is a concern, those students considered high status are much more likely to abuse alcohol. If we want to understand the motivation behind college binge drinking, we need to realize that the students are reacting to their environment and are made to feel better as a result of adapting to their surroundings--peer pressure at work in its purest form.
The data suggests that binge drinking has become a symbol of high social status in college and that low-status students are using binge drinking to achieve social mobility. The researchers also noted that drinking behavior is deeply integrated with the social norms of college and the “high status” groups on campus have established those norms.
Because this was a relatively controlled environment, we can’t rule out the possibility that other universities may provide different results. For instance a commuter school where social life isn’t as important may reveal different findings.
The happiness associated with binge drinking obviously doesn’t outweigh the physical and developmental risks of frequent heavy drinking, but the impact of social acceptance on behavior and happiness is nevertheless worth noting.
Chao, T. (2012, August 20). Abc news . Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/08/20/binge-drinking-college-students-report-being-happier/
Huget, J. (2012, August 20). Binge-drinking students happier than others, study finds. . Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-checkup/post/binge-drinking-students-happier-than-others-study-finds/2012/08/16/bc3a68b0-e7d4-11e1-9739-eef99c5fb285_blog.html