Remember the kids who were constantly binge drinking in college? Turns out, they might have been happier than you are. A recent study found that college students who binge tend to be more satisfied with their college experience than their sober peers.
“Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college,” says Carolyn L. Hsu, co-author of the study, in the press release. “It’s what the most powerful, wealthy, and happy students on campus do. This may explain why it’s such a desirable activity. When lower status students binge drink, they may be trying to tap into the benefits and the social satisfaction that those kids from high status groups enjoy. And, our findings seem to indicate that, to some extent, they succeed.”
The study surveyed about 1,600 undergraduates at liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Of course, drinking culture on each campus is going to be different, Hsu says, but some patterns did emerge. Residential colleges that were predominantly white and had a large Greek presence topped the binge list.
Status also seemed to have a lot to do with drinking habits. Those who felt like they were at the bottom, sometimes turned to drinking to bring them up the social ladder. The Washington Post explains:
Contrary to what you might think, the study found that binge drinkers didn’t typically engage in the practice to mitigate unhappiness or combat anxiety, but rather to improve their social standing by behaving the way students of high social status behaved.
If you’re thinking that’s really sad, I agree.
This is, of course, not a new revelation. Alcohol marketers have understood the status that alcohol can bring for decades. ABC News:
“The insight that people drink to attain social status is not ,” says David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Alcohol marketers intentionally market social aspirations — for example, an ad for Johnnie Walker from the 1990s had the bottle suspended from wires with other objects floating around it, like a mobile — and the tag-line was ‘Upwardly mobile.’”
But no matter who you are, drinking seems to make you a happier camper. The press release writes:
Nevertheless, the authors found that across race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, and Greek or non-Greek affiliation, the connection between binge drinking and satisfaction with the college social experience, remained consistent. “Students in all groups consistently liked college more when they participated in the campuses’ binge drinking culture,” Hsu said.
Other researchers have questioned just how strong the correlation is between drinking and satisfaction. Happier students and binge drinking might just happen to occur together. ABC News spoke with Dr. Richard Saitz, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health. “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,” he said. “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.”
Regardless, experts warn that binge drinking is just as dangerous as it used to be. About 1,700 students die each year from excessive drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Another 600,000 or so are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. And those who felt happier were certainly not exempt from these consequences.
“It’s not that binge drinking is the solution to complex social problems,” Hsu says in the press release. “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.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
Inviting Writing: Alchemy in the College Cafeteria
What Did You Do in College? These Students Discovered a Planet