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College Drinkers Are Happier & Cooler

This has just got to cheese off Alcohol Justice and the other neo-prohibitionist wingnuts, but Time magazine is reporting the results of a recent study that found the unpleasant truth that students who binge drink in college are actually happier and enjoy higher status among their peers. In Why College Binge Drinkers Are Happier, Have High Status, they began with a bang:

College binge drinkers say they’re happier with their social lives than those who don’t indulge — but it’s probably the boost in social status, not the booze itself that lifts their mood, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

“Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college,” said study co-author Carolyn Hsu, an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University in a statement, noting that it’s what the wealthy, powerful and happy students on campus do.

The study found that rich white frat boys reported having the greatest social satisfaction at school and were considered the big men on campus by others. They were not only happier than students in low-status groups — women, minorities and people who were less financially well-off — but also more likely to binge drink. “Binge drinking then becomes associated with high status and the ‘cool’ students on campus,” said Hsu.

Low-status students in turn reported being happier if they binged than if they didn’t. Indeed, alcohol seemed to be the great social equalizer, bringing members of low-status groups to happiness levels similar to those of greater social power if they binged. “Students in all groups consistently liked college more when they participated in the campus’ binge drinking culture,” Hsu said.

The results are still preliminary, but it’s still notable for at least trying to better understand why binge drinking persists, despite endless efforts to curb it. Though to be fair, most of those efforts are misguided bludgeons like “just say no” and other ideas doomed to fail by neo-prohibitionist groups.

Other interesting tidbits included the fact that “the most stressed and highly anxious students were the least likely to binge, suggesting that the negative emotions that often drive alcoholism are not influencing many of these bingers.” And in a related study, it was found that College Men Who Post About Alcohol Have More Facebook Friends. In a way, it’s not surprising, as social status is pretty important at that age, possibly more important than at any other time. College students, often on their own for the first time in their young lives, trying to find themselves and become their own adults, have the added burden of having virtually no education regarding alcohol and having to obtain it through illegal means thanks to the anti-alcohol efforts of the past several decades. So when the study concludes “that the social advantages of binge drinking do not mitigate its negative consequences on health and academic performance,” I can only say, well, duh.

But it’s the final paragraph that contains the most important wisdom, totally lost on neo-prohibitionists and especially people who do not drink.

Surprisingly little research is conducted on the positive effects sought by drug users and what they actually achieve via their drug consumption; the assumption is that alcohol and other drugs are always bad and their users are irrational. But until more studies like this are conducted, prevention programs are unlikely to improve. We can’t prevent what we don’t understand.

Just say know.

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