Note to all my college-student friends: Binge drinking is bad for you. Don’t do it.
But new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver this week comes to the kind-of-surprising conclusion that college students who engage in binge drinking are happier than their non-bingeing peers.
You’d think it might be the other way around, that kids who aren’t happy would be drawn to binge drinking. But co-author Carolyn Hsu, an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., found that binge drinking is associated with status on campuses and that binge-drinking students tend to be happier with their social lives than others.
The as-yet-unpublished study cites earlier research linking binge drinking to problems that include poor academic performance, violence, risky sexual behaviors and the development of alcohol dependence. The authors note that alcohol-education programs have made young people well aware of those likely outcomes, yet students continue to be drawn to bingeing.
Aiming to tease out the relationships between students’ social status, their satisfaction with college life and their binge drinking, the researchers surveyed nearly 1,600 students at what the paper describes as a selective residential liberal arts college in the Northeast.
Among those students, 64 percent reported binge drinking and 36 percent said they weren’t binge drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as consuming more than four drinks on one occasion for women, and more than five for men, at least once during a two-week period.
They found that students who were in high-status groups — wealthy, white, male, participating in Greek life — were more satisfied socially than those in low-status groups — less wealthy, racial minorities, female, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ), not participating in a fraternity or sorority.
The study further found that high-status students were far more likely than low-status students to be binge drinkers. It also found that low-status students could boost their social satisfaction so it was about the same as that of high-status students by binge drinking. Conversely, high-status students who didn’t binge drink had lower levels of social satisfaction than did high-status binge drinkers.
Contrary to what you might think, the study found that binge drinkers didn’t typically engage in the practice to mitigate unhappiness or combat anxiety, but rather to improve their social standing by behaving the way students of high social status behaved.
If you’re thinking that’s really sad, I agree.
The authors conclude: “The present study offers another insight into the nature of a seemingly intractable social problem. It is our hope that by drawing attention to the important social motivations underlying binge drinking, institutional administrators and public health professionals will be able to design and implement programs for students that take into account the full range of reasons that students binge drink.”