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Drinking Games Causing Legal, School Problems for Light, Moderate Drinkers

Published: Sunday, March 4, 2012

Updated: Friday, July 20, 2012 14:07

A new study suggests that drinking games – and not the actual act of consuming a moderate amount of alcohol – is getting light and moderate drinkers into trouble with the law and school.

The study, based on a survey of 3,830 college students, found that 2,802 of the students were considered light to moderate drinkers, and of those, 66 percent participated in drinking games. Students who participated in drinking games experienced a significantly higher percentage of problems related to drinking than non-game players. Problems in the study were defined as nausea or vomiting, a hangover, missing class, lower grades, fighting, damaged property, drinking and driving or being arrested for a DUI.

  The remaining 1,028 students were heavy drinkers and exhibited a high percentage of those problems regardless of whether they participated in drinking games of or not. The study was authored by David J. Hanson, professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam and his colleague Professor Ruth Engs.

We were interested in collegiate drinking patterns and problems,” Hanson said. “It seemed to us that drinking games were probably related to drinking problems.”

Though a correlation between drinking games and drinking-related problems may seem quite obvious, what brings concern to researchers like Hanson and Engs is the binge drinking most of these games entail.

“Drinking games promote a rapid heavy consumption of alcohol in a short period of time,” Hanson said. “That increases the blood alcohol concentration to a very high level, very quickly.”

Hanson said alcohol abuse is a serious ongoing problem for all ages but is particularly common during the college years and is associated with increased rates of accidents and other alcohol-related problems.

According to a survey conducted by The Core Institute, the largest national Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) database about college students’ drinking and drug use in the country, an overwhelming majority of college students feel drinking is a central part of the social life in college. Specifically, students involved in Greek life feel that drinking is a central part of the social life in fraternities (93 percent) and sororities (85 percent). On average, the survey data suggest one-third of college freshman reported their alcohol use increased in college.

Incidentally, the latest federal study on high school students concluded that in 2011 all measures of alcohol use, including binge drinking, reached historic lows.

“This is good news,” Hanson said. “The bad news is that there are still people, of all ages, that abuse alcohol.”

Hanson has made it “a hobby” to continue his work on drinking habits in the US. His website, “Alcohol: Problems and Solutions” explores drinking in different age groups, the problems and possible solutions to decrease the abuse of alcohol.

On his website, Hanson states that society’s ways of dealing with binge drinking is not as effective as it could be. Scare tactics, hype and exaggeration of consequences haven’t had a significant effect.

Instead, Hanson suggests educating youth and teaching responsible drinking.

“Instead of stigmatizing alcohol and trying to scare people into abstinence, we need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the abuse of alcohol that is the problem,” he said. “Because either drinking in moderation or abstaining should both be equally acceptable options for adults, we must prepare students for either choice. To do otherwise is both irresponsible and ineffective, if not counterproductive.”

Drinking games are not a modern creation, however. According to the Journal of American College Health, youth in ancient Greece played games at symposia as did Romans at their banquets. These games usually consisted of reciting poetry, toasts and riddles. The person who couldn’t finish the riddle or recitation was made to drink. 

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