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Binging Students Feel "Richer and Whiter"

A study claims that students who binge drink are more satisfied with their social standing. Which doesn't mean that binging causes that feeling.

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How binge drinking may make you feel
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By Chrisanne Grise

08/20/12

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Binge drinking makes college students feel rich and powerful—regardless of background or social status—which translates to feeling "happier," according to a report released at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver. The report was based on a study of the social standing and boozing habits of over 1,595 students at a small, predominantly white liberal arts college. They found that the "higher status" students (wealthy, white, male, heterosexual and/or participating in Greek life) were reportedly happier than their lower-income, female, non-white, homosexual and/or non-Greek-affiliated classmates. But when the "lower status" students engaged in binge drinking (four drinks at once for female and five drinks for males) they reported feelings of "social satisfaction" more similar to those of the "higher status" students. “Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for higher social status in college and is correspondingly related to greater social satisfaction,” concludes Carolyn Hsu, the lead study author. Dr. Mark Jaffe, a psychiatrist at Cliffside Malibu Drug Detox Program, agrees: “For the price of a six-pack or two of beer, a minority or poorer student can feel as if they have become a member of the Beverly Hills Country Club.” He says that knowing this will help experts develop “better ways to change the social and cultural pressures that exist in colleges that cause binge drinking to occur.”

Still, some doctors have reservations about the accuracy of the study's findings. “Since [the study] is descriptive and not experimental, the two end points may not be linked,” says Dr. Fulton T. Crews, director of Alcohol Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Richard Saitz, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University is also skeptical: “This does not mean that the alcohol is what leads to the satisfaction,” he points out. “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. 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.”

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