American Sociological Association: Binge drinking college students are happier than peers
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 00:09
Binge drinking college students are happier with their college social experience than their non-binge drinking peers, a recent study published by the American Sociological Association says.
Sam Houston State University’s Eddie Gisemba, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Initiative Coordinator, hadn’t gone over the research when contacted by The Houstonian, but when he was told of the findings, said he didn’t find it to be surprising or uncommon.
“When you think about just the physiological effect of alcohol, the impact that it has with the dopamines in the brain which actually make you feel better and improves mood, and in addition alcohol is a social lubricant in its nature,” Gisemba said. “It makes people more sociable in general, like laughing and joking around. So from a physiological perspective, it seems like it makes sense in that regard.”
The ASA study distinguishes high status groups (i.e., wealthy, male, white, heterosexual, and Greek affiliated under graduates) from low status (i.e., less wealthy; female; non-white; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ); and non-Greek affiliated undergraduates). The study found higher status groups were “consistently happier” with their college social experience than their peers from lower status groups.
Authors of the study categorized high status groups and low status groups based on previous literature regarding low graduation rates, peer discrimination and hostile campus environments, according to the ASA press release.
The research relied on nearly 1,600 undergraduate students in selective predominantly white institutions in a northeastern residential liberal arts college in 2009 and presented to the ASA last month.
Carolyn L. Hsu, co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University, said that students who are considered more socially powerful, drink more.
“Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college,” Hsu said. “It’s what the most powerful, wealthy, and happy students on campus do. This may explain why it’s such a desirable activity.”
Hsu said that to some extent, the findings seem to indicate that when lower status students binge drink, they may be trying to tap into the benefits and the social satisfaction that those of high status groups enjoy.
It was also determined that while binge drinking increased social satisfaction for students from a range of lower status groups, the positive effects of bing drinking on social satisfaction were particularly strong for low income, non-Greek affiliated, and female students.
LGBTQ and minority students experienced increased social satisfaction in college from binge drinking, but not as much as the higher and other lower status groups.
“Minority students and members of the LGBTQ community, more than other low status students often face discrimination and struggle with their sense of belonging on predominately white, heterosexual campuses,” Hsu said. “This may be lessening the potential ameliorating impact of binge drinking on low status. “
The authors did not find evidence that unhappy students were binge drinking to self medicate, in fact, low status students were least likely to drink.
Research found that binge drinking was seen as a logical means to adapt, survive and seek out the most favorable life while in college, even though despite the potential positive social effects, binge drinking students were not exempt from negative interpersonal and health outcomes associated with alcohol abuse.
“It’s not that binge drinking is the solution to complex social problems,” Hsu said. “Rather, it is our hope that when universities and public health professionals design alcohol related programs for students, they take into account the full range and important social motivations underlying student binge drinking.”
While Gisemba did not find the results of the study to be surprising, he did caution students of taking the study at face value.
“People that have a life involving alcohol are known to be more social, and will therefore report a more satisfying college experience,” Gisemba said. “However, there can be several risks. You have to wonder whether or not those social encounters are the most healthy, whether or not they are true friendships or artificial in some way, shape or form.”