Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut, at the end of March released some preliminary results after three years of a five-year study entitled the Brain and Alcohol Research Project. In a press release entitled What Students’ Brains Have Told Us about the Effects of Binge Drinking, they revealed the following:
Young adults who binge drink tend to perform worse in class than normally would have been expected, but only in the first year of college. After that, drinking to excess produces no discernible difference in academic performance.
So the obvious takeaway from that is that during a student’s first year away from home and away from parental rule, young adults tend to go a little wild that first year but then settle down into academic life for the remaining three years of their four-year college experience. They may not stop drinking, but they figure out how to hit the books, too. It seems rather predictable when you think about, especially when there’s virtually no alcohol education prior to college and in some states even parents are forbidden from educating their own children about drinking.
But it also seems to fly in the face of the neo-prohibitionist hue and cry about underage drinking being as bad for student performance as believed. And undoubtedly the worst of it is because it’s underground as a result of the minimum age being 21 instead of a more reasonable 18.
Also known as BARCS (for Brain and Alcohol Research with College Students), the project is “a large-scale longitudinal study that includes more than 2,000 college students from diverse backgrounds, set out to definitively address previously unanswered questions such as: Can heavy drinking in college affect brain structure and grades? If so, is it related to the overall amount of alcohol consumed or more to consumption patterns, such as binging and blackouts? Why is it that many students drink heavily in college but only a minority goes on to have alcohol problems after college? Are all adolescents affected equally by alcohol in terms of possible effects on brain and risk for later alcohol abuse? Is there a way to identify the people who will be longer-term problem drinkers?”
Unfortunately, I believe they begin with a failed premise. The study defines binge drinking “as a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol content to 0.08 percent or above.” That means drinking enough to be considered drunk at the lowest BAC allowed in most jurisdictions is the same as binge drinking. It’s amazing how what it means to binge drink keeps getting lower and lower, presumably in an effort to make the perceived problem seem increasingly worse. But this greater incidence of binge drinking is due entirely to continually redefining its meaning. Equating binge drinking with merely being drunk (under the legal definition) removes any distinction between the two and renders it meaningless.