Excessive drinking has historically been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression, but new research suggests that it is actually associated with higher levels of social status and happiness for college students. Binge drinking, defined as consuming more than four or five drinks in a session every 14 days for women and men, respectively, was found to be more prevalent in college students of “higher” social status and linked to greater levels of happiness with their college social experience.
The study, conducted by an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University, interviewed 1,600 college students from higher status groups (wealthy, white heterosexual males) and lower ones such as less wealthy, non-white LGBT males and females. Not only was the higher status group associated with higher levels of binge drinking than the lower one, but they exhibited higher levels of happiness in regards to their college experience as well.
Throughout the study, the correlation between race, socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality remained consistent with higher levels of binge drinking and satisfaction with college life. Students that had not engaged in binge drinking consistently liked college more after joining the binge drinking group even if they did not necessarily like binge drinking itself. Because of its association with higher social status, most students tend to view excessive drinking as more of a means to an end than an enjoyable activity.
The correlation between binge drinking and happiness was not the only “backwards” association between college and real life. Normally, unhappy people binge drink in an attempt to self-medicate. In the study, the students with the highest levels of anxiety and depression as well as victims of sexual abuse and discrimination were the least likely to binge drink, suggesting that social anxiety could be playing a role in their decision making.
The college binge drinking mentality is a nationwide epidemic, with 90 percent of alcohol consumed by young adults under 21 years of age being binge drinking, according to the CDC. Although it does not look like the trend is going to be reversing any time soon, taking preventative steps could prevent excessive drinking such as discussing the dangers of alcohol abuse with your teen as well as how to be safe if drinking.
Binge drinking and death
Binge drinking is a relatively common cause of death amongst college students. Exorbitant amounts of alcohol are usually combined with caffeinated drinks in order to feel less of the sedative effects of alcohol, allowing students to drink more for longer periods of time and increase their risks exponentially. Although caffeine may reduce side effects of alcohol use such as headache, dry mouth and impaired judgment, it does not fully reduce the effects and actually increases the risk by encouraging more alcohol consumption.
Alcohol use in conjunction with some drugs can create a synergistic effect, greatly increasing their risks. For example, cocaine and alcohol create cocaethylene in the liver, a molecule with a greater cardiotoxicity than both its constituents. Because of its effects on all three neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin), cocaethylene has a greater euphoric effect and potential for addiction in teens that mix ethanol and caffeine.
Other commonly associated drugs with college binge drinking such as MDMA, or ecstasy, also have the potential to be fatal. Similarly to caffeine, the stimulant effects of MDMA not only counteract the depressant effects of alcohol, but can increase the risk of hyperthermia, hallucinations and reckless behavior. Because of ecstasy’s tendency to induce feelings of floating or flying, ecstasy/alcohol related deaths have occurred from jumping from balconies and walking into traffic.
Perhaps the most dangerous substance to combine with alcohol is alcohol itself. Because of its excessive pace, binge drinking causes inebriation within a relatively short period of time, creating a high level of intoxication long before one even becomes aware of it. Students of lower social status looking to use binge drinking as a tool to enhance their social mobility are perhaps the most at risk due to their relative inexperience and sense of peer pressure to drink their way up the social ladder.
Alcohol abuse is responsible for 5,000 deaths a year in young adults under age 21, the majority of which involve car crashes, suicidal and homicidal behavior. Being cool in college will last four years, but the effects of alcohol abuse can end it before then.