Binge Drinking Students Happier, Study Finds

By Amir Khan on August 20, 2012 10:34 AM EDT

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Binge drinking, the staple of any college experience, may not help your grades, but it may help your social life, according to new research (Photo: Creative Commons)

Binge drinking, the staple of any college experience, may not help your grades, but it may help your social life, according to new research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Researchers found that college students who binge drink report being happier with their social life than students who don't.

Although researchers only looked at one college in the Northeast, they said the results would likely hold true across the country, and could explain why binge drinking rates stay roughly the same over time.

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"I would guess it has to do with feeling like you belong and whether or not you're doing what a 'real' college student does," Carolyn Hsu, lead researcher and a sociologist at Colgate University in New York, told LiveScience. "It seems to be more about certain groups getting to define what that looks like."

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 students at the college, which requested to remain anonymous, and said they noticed a reoccurring theme.

"One thing that was a recurrent comment were students who said, 'Everyone drinks here. ... I don't want to get drunk, but I feel like I don't belong here if I don't.' ... Then the next person would write, 'I don't really want to drink, but this is what everyone else does.' And the next person would write, 'You know, I don't mind drinking a little, but I don't want to get smashed, but everyone does that,'" Hsu said.

Hsu was quick to mention that binge drinking, which is defined as drinking more than four or more drinks in a sitting, is not the best way to increase your happiness. It was linked to higher rates of sexual victimization and academic troubles in the short term. Long-term, previous studies have linked binge drinking to cirrhosis, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The findings raise questions as to whether the students would be happier without alcohol, Hsu said.

"I look at this and I think, 'Why don't you guys just have a party without drinking? None of you want to be doing this!'" she said.

However, Dr. Richard Saitz, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said binge drinking and happiness may not have a causal link.

"This does not mean that the alcohol is what leads to the satisfaction," he told ABC News. "Imagine a school where it is the norm to wear a T-shirt with the sports team's logo and most students report doing so. Would it be a surprise to find out that those who wore the shirt were more socially satisfied? I don't think so. Would the shirt be causing social satisfaction? Probably not."

Dr. Fulton T. Crews, director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agreed.

"Since [the study] is descriptive and not experimental, the two end points may not be linked," he told ABC News. "It is possible drinking reflects satisfaction for some, [but] changes mood, creating dissatisfaction for others."

Dr. Edwin Salsitz, chair of the Education and Program Committee of the New York Society of Addiction Medicine, told the Daily Mail that the findings are "sad."

"I find the overall information to be very sad," he said. "Binge drinking is dangerous on many different levels, yet these students seem to derive benefits from this behavior."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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