Study Shows Why College Students Binge Drink

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Binge drinking in college is rampant, and the negative consequences on grades, health and future drinking behaviors are well known. So why do so many do it? A study out of Colgate University shows it may be no more than imitation.

The study, “Social Status, Binge Drinking, and Social Satisfaction among College Students” by Carolyn Hsu and others comes to the conclusion that the behaviors stem, at least in part when lower status students see what higher status students are up to. And one of the things their more admired peers do is get highly intoxicated in binge episodes.

Another surprise is that binging pays off. At least in terms of having a better college experience and feelings of happiness. Dr. Hsu said, “Among all groups, we found that binge drinking and social satisfaction were strongly connected.”

She also mentioned that drinking “cultures” vary by college campus and the results are most applicable to predominately white colleges with high binge drinking rates, a large Greek presence and a residential campus. In some ways, these factors define a particular subculture, one where popularity and status are linked strongly to drinking behaviors.

It’s an eerie parallel with the movie trope: frat parties where beer is chugged in mass quantities in displays of machismo and “cool.”

These are residential colleges, so students are immersed in whatever culture happens to emerge. Living on campus alters the social environment and keeps outside influences at bay. Like all sub-cultures, this opens the participants to adopting different norms, including how alcohol is used. Meeting those norms by binging has a pay-off, that according to the study, crosses other categories (race, gender, and Greek affiliation). Hsu said, “Students in all groups consistently liked college more when they participated in the campuses' binge drinking culture."

Periodic and repeated binge drinking doesn’t come without consequences, but these are not enough to overcome the benefits students get. Any interventions will have to bear this in mind – they aren’t doing it to escape so much as for the positive social outcome.

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