College students: Heavy drinking has its upsides

Jul 14, 2011

“It’s as though they think that the good effects of drinking keep getting better …”

A new study with implications for alcohol intervention programs on college campuses around the country finds that many students believe the benefits of boozing it up outweigh the downsides.

University of Washington psychologists surveyed some 500 college students about their drinking habits and how they perceived the consequences both positive and negative of that drinking. The study found students rated the upsides of drinking – conversations, joking-telling abilities, improved sexual encounters and staying in party mode – as more positive and likely to happen in the future.

“This study suggest why some people can experience a lot of bad consequences of drinking but not change their behavior,” said Kevin King, co-author and UW assistant professor of psychology. “They do not seem to associate their own heavy drinking with negative consequences.”

Dismissing the negative

Blackouts, fights, hangovers, missed classes and work as well as lost or stolen belongings just didn’t seem to be that big of deal even to those students who had experienced some of these negative events.

On the morning after a night of heavy partying, people tell themselves “I’ll never drink that much again” or “I threw up that one time, but that’s not me; I won’t do it again.” Or, it may be that once a bad consequence of drinking happens, people think that it wasn’t really as bad as they initially thought, the researchers speculated.

But the participants reporting the most negative experiences rated the episodes as more negative and more likely to happen again.

“Until high levels of negative consequences are experienced, participants aren’t deterred by the ill effects of drinking,” Diane Logan, lead author and a UW clinical psychology graduate student.

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