I had a conversation with a university student about binge drinking last week. The student mentioned he would rather not drink as much as he did, and predicted once out of university he might cut alcohol all together.
Given his preference not to drink I was curious as to why he drank anyway. His answer was he felt peer pressure to drink, and that in order to be with his friends having a good time, drinking was necessary.
He said he felt this was his own perception as none of his friends try to provoke him into drinking, or admonish him for not drinking, nonetheless, there seemed to be an assumed behaviour; if you want to hang out with friends, drinking is an important part of making that happen.
Moreover was the purpose of drinking. The student explained to me that the reason for drinking was strictly for the purpose of getting drunk, and not for casual use. I can identify as for a time when I was between the age of 17 and 22ish, that's what I used to do.
I never actually liked drinking; didn't like the flavour and didn't really like the buzz. Wasn't for me. Except brown cows, I liked those because they tasted like chocolate milk. Now I just do the chocolate milk.
There is some academic disagreement as to how binge drinking is defined, but in general 4-5 drinks over an hour or two is where "binging" starts. Some skilled drinkers will scoff at that boasting they can do that in minutes or even seconds. To qualify as a binge drinker you'd have to engage in binge drinking chronically once or twice per week.
A recent study (1) found that 63% of female and 83% of male college students were binge drinkers. This particular study was looking at the co-occurance of disordered eating along with binge drinking and found that 48% of the students also reported binge eating habits.
A story in the Washington Post (2) tells of a multi-universtiy initiative in the US to curb binge drinking has had some success, reducing from 59% in 1997 to 43% (2009) of students reporting they had binge drank in the previous two weeks.
Will certain sights and sounds stimulate you crave alcohol? A study done in 2010 at the University of Central Missouri (3) did a small study (15 binge drinking college students and 8 nonbingers), used a head mounted virtual reality device to expose students to either a "nutral-cue" environment of underwater scenes, or "alcohol-cue rooms" with a bar, party, kitchen, or argument scene.
The binge drinkers reported significantly higher cravings for and thoughts of alcohol than the nonbinge drinkers. A question often raised, but still not completely answered, is where does the desire to binge drink start? Do movies that depict wild college parties create the expectation that binge drinking is simply part of the expected college experience? Or has this always been the way it is and the movies simply play off this established social norm?
Both schools and booze have been around for a long time, so who knows. It appears though that regardless of why a person becomes a binge drinker, they may be more susceptible to social cues that stimulate the desire to drink indicating that perhaps once you start binge drinking there's a greater likelihood of feeling compelled to keep doing it.
We've all heard about the negative effects of alcohol, liver, mouth, and stomach cancer as well as the challenges of alcoholism and drunk driving. Hard to so say no when drinking is so socially established. Focusing on the negative outcomes of over-doing booze has some effect, but we all know that being told not to do something often provokes a person to do it anyway.
Maybe a better step would be to place more of a focus on the positive outcomes of not binge drinking; better sleep, better grades, not being hung over, saving money etc..
Overal binge drinking is a serious problem on campuses all over the world and it might benefit us to take a sober step back and reconsider how binge drinking causes harm, both short and long term, and not binging is ultimately more rewarding.
Always a good reference for learning about alcohol: Mothers Against Drunk Driving
FYI: British girls worst binge drinkers in the western world The Telegraph
(1) Binge drinking and disordered eating in college st... [J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2011] - PubMed result
(3) Virtual reality cues for binge drinking in college... [Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010] - PubMed result