The study finds not only are students that binge drink happier, but students who drink to excess do so to obtain a higher social status rather than to enjoy the effects of alcohol.
The study was presented yesterday at the 107th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association held in Denver, Colorado. The study interviewed 1,595 students at a small liberal college located in the northeast part of the United States. As a condition of participating in the survey, the name of the college was not released.
Binge drinking is defined as a man who consumes five or more drinks at a single sitting, at least once in a two week period. A woman is considered a binge drinker if she drinks four or more drinks at a single sitting during the same time period.
The study was conducted by researchers at Colgate University in New York state. Dr. Carolyn Hsu, an associate professor of sociology at the university and a co-author of the study, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, "Students in all groups consistently like college more when they participated in the campuses' binge drinking culture."
Students said they drank, not so much to feel the effects of alcohol but to fit in. Hsu was quoted by Fox News as saying, "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.'"
The participants were divided into "high status" and "low status" students. The authors of the research defined high status students as those who are white, straight, wealthy, male, or those who are members of a fraternity. Conversely, low status students are those who are non-white, gay, poorer, female, or those who have no connection to a fraternity.
The conclusions reached by the paper are that high status students are more likely to binge drink than their low status counterparts. But when low status students did drink to excess, they were happier than those who did not partake in binge drinking and they felt more accepted in the college setting.
Hsu was quoted in US News as saying, "On campuses with a persistently high level of binge drinking, students engage in binge drinking because binge drinking is associated with a high status and with social satisfaction."
Live Science reports Hsu saying binge drinking is not the best way to improve happiness in college. The professor pointed out binge drinking results in negative consequences including academic problems and a higher rate of sexual victimization.
Hsu hopes to expand the research to other American colleges.