Sunday, August 26, 2012

Get Drunk and Be Somebody

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.” – Homer Simpson

Disturbing headline of the week:

College Students Who Binge Drink Say They're Happier.

This was one of several conclusions from a study conducted at Colgate University. The press release goes on to say:

So-called "high-status" and socially powerful college kids are more likely to engage in binge drinking than their less-wealthy, less-connected, lower-status peers, new research reveals. But lower-status students who do binge on alcohol say they are more "socially satisfied" with their college experience than their non-binge-drinking peers.
What this means, say investigators, is that on campuses where binge drinking is a problem, those students who are white, wealthy, straight, male, or fraternity-initiated are much more prone to drink in excess of four to five drinks at a pop than those who are poorer, non-white, female, gay, or unconnected to the frat system.
Higher-status students were also found to be consistently happier with their college social life than lower-status students.
"The study reveals that if you want to understand college binge drinking, you need to understand that college students are reacting to the local campus social situation," said study lead author Carolyn Hsu, an associate professor of sociology and chair in the department of sociology and anthropology at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. "[And] on campuses with a persistently high level of binge drinking, students engage in binge drinking because binge drinking is associated with high status and with social satisfaction."

My take on this is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Young folks have been getting drunk since the discovery of the fermentation process. Today more women are drinking to excess and overall there does seem to be more open admission of excess drinking. But the social pressure to drink up and have a good time has always been there.

The part of the study that I find interesting is the implication that binge drinking = happiness. First of all, what is binge drinking? In this study binge drinking was defined as:

“Drinking four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) during a single session at least once within a two-week period. Sixty-four percent of study participants qualified as binge drinkers.”

I’m not sure what the real definition of binge drinking should be, but this one is questionable. Increase the volume by 50% and make it at least a once a week event and you get to belly up to the bar of true binge drinking. Spend some time there and you will find that happiness begins to fade away very quickly.

As for happiness, if being part of the “right crowd” and having the “right friends” makes one happy, then I would agree that many of those who like to party are happy at this point in their lives. There are probably a lot of other factors involved such as money and good looks. But, any way you slice it, this is happiness at its most shallow and superficial level. And it also fades away very quickly.

The real tragedy of the headline: “College Students Who Binge Drink Say They're Happier” is the message that if you want to be happier, just drink a lot of alcohol. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For the record, I am not a teetotaler by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy a few beers or a couple of cocktails and indulge accordingly on a regular basis. But, in my younger days, I did my share of binge drinking; major league, all-star binge drinking. And it wasn’t good and it did not make me or anyone around me happy. Physically, mentally, spiritually...too much alcohol is not good for anyone and it’s deadly for some.

Thankfully, I am one of the lucky ones who learned when to say when. I am also one of the lucky ones who never got a DUI or thrown in jail, although I could have been and probably should have been. But I did say and do a lot of things that wrecked more than a few relationships. In the end, nothing good comes from drinking too much. It’s a shame that one of the headlines of the week suggest otherwise.

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