Binge Drinking and Its Social Consequences

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Binge drinking, or excessive alcohol use, is linked to approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the United States and it is a heavy burden on America’s economy due to loss of productivity in the workplace, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers at CDC found that the cost of excessive alcohol use reached $249 billion in 2010, roughly equivalent to a national average of $2.05 per drink. About 77% of these costs were related to binge drinking.

The social impact of drinking can be seen in the loss of workplace productivity, high costs of health care related to drinking behaviors, legal and criminal justice expenses, and alcohol-related vehicular accidents. Other forms of impact are visible through deterioration of marital and familial relationships, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, domestic violence, induced or exacerbated mental health disorders, and other negative effects. The estimates of alcohol’s costs on American society may be a lot higher, since data on the actual consumption of alcohol goes unreported or is unavailable, researchers say.

Binge Drinking Facts

The following data were derived from CDC’s Fact Sheet on binge drinking:

• On a monthly basis, one in six American adults drink four times a month, averaging seven drinks per binge. This adds up to approximately 467 binge drinks per person annually.
• Binge drinking is more common among young adults between ages 18 and 34, but adults aged 35 and older consume more than half of the total binge drinks
• Men are twice as likely to binge drink than women
• Individuals with higher educational levels or higher incomes of $75,000 or more are likely to binge drink, but those with lower incomes and educational levels consume more binge drinks per year

Circumstances surrounding binge drinking

Depending on age, culture and life stage, binge drinking occurs for different reasons.

Young adulthood, between ages 18 and 25, is a period when many young people are moving out of their homes for the first time to go to college, live on their own or live in dorms with other college students. It’s an age of self-exploration and identity development which is highly influenced by one’s social networks in college. According to an article published on the New York University website, peer interactions replace parental guidance and support as new students try to adapt to the college lifestyle and environment. The more students rely on seasoned college peers for advice and direction, the more susceptible they become to peer pressure when it comes to fitting in, especially when peers model alcohol use as something to be positively accepted and embraced.

The college scene isn’t the only place where young adults are heavily influenced to drink. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) cites several studies that compare drinking behaviors of college students to those of non-college students. On average, college students drink less than their non-college peers, but at social events such as weekend parties, college students drink more than non-students. College students are more apt to stop drinking behaviors than non-college students; adults in their 30s who did not attend college reported more heavy drinking than those who went to college.

Young adults entering the armed forces are more likely to drink heavily than older enlistees, according to NIAAA. In 2002, about 27% of active military service members ages 18 to 25 reported heavy drinking compared to 8.9% of service members aged 26 and older. Prevalence of high drinking can be attributed to the military workplace culture and increased availability of alcohol around the bases.

Binge drinking has been associated with exposure to trauma, which differs for men and women. Common types of trauma for men include exposure to fire, physical assaults, combat and life-threatening accidents or threats with a weapon, whereas women typically report trauma in the forms of molestation, sexual assault and child abuse (Kachadourian, Pilver & Potenza, 2014). Men are exposed to more traumatic events, but women are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is more chronic and persistent in women than in men, mainly due to inadequate social support which results in greater alcohol consumption to deal with the aftermath of trauma.

Binge drinking behaviors are influenced by social context and culture, especially in the way alcohol is viewed. If someone grew up in a neighborhood that frowned upon binge drinking, that person is less likely to drink, even if he or she believes that alcohol use is acceptable (Ahern, Galea, Hubbard, Midanik & Syme, 2008). In social contexts where alcohol consumption is expected, such as house parties or events, individuals are more likely to binge drink.

Characteristics of binge drinkers

There are certain personality traits specific to binge drinkers that render them susceptible to risky
behaviors. Adan and colleagues (2017) have identified these traits as high impulsivity, high sensation seeking, anxiety sensitivity, neuroticism, extraversion and low conscientiousness.

The two personality traits, Impulsivity and Sensation-seeking, are often paired together and labeled as “disinhibited personality.” An impulsive person is one who has a short attention span, has poor planning skills and is prone to risky behaviors. One who seeks sensation is easily bored and on a constant hunt for excitement and adventure, always living life on the edge. Numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between scores of impulsivity/sensation-seeking, the number of drinks per episode and the frequency of binge drinking.

Anxiety sensitivity refers to one’s heightened (and often irrational) fear of imminent danger of what “might” happen. It is the fear of fear itself, accompanied by misinterpretation of physical sensations such as rapid heartbeat, perspiration or tremors. For example, if your heart started beating rapidly, you might fear that you’re about to have a heart attack. Anxiety sensitivity is closely associated with panic disorders, and it can lead to the development of other anxiety disorders.

Neuroticism is one of the Big Five Personality Traits that distinguishes between binge drinkers, moderate drinkers and non-drinkers among women. Individuals with high levels of neuroticism tend to be easily upset, worrisome, moody, anxious, and set in their ways. They are not very resilient or emotionally stable.

Extraversion is a personality trait that thrives on external stimuli. Those who are extroverted, or are high in extraversion, are often known as the “life of the party” – they enjoy social gatherings and are very energetic and outgoing. The allure of alcohol for extroverts is its mood-enhancing effect, which serves them well in social settings where they steal the spotlight. Combined with other personality traits like impulsivity and neuroticism, extraversion is a risk factor for alcohol use disorder (Fairbairn, Sayette, Wright, Levine, Cohn & Creswell, 2015). Studies show that extroverts initiate alcohol use at a younger age and drink more heavily than introverts (Fairbairn et al., 2015).

Conscientiousness is a considerate personality trait. People who are high in conscientiousness are mindful of the impact that their behavior and words can have on others. They are generally empathetic, considerate, ambitious, organized and thoughtful. People low in conscientiousness tend to be spontaneous (impulsive) without giving much thought to the consequences of their actions. They may only think of the immediate gratification of an action without considering the potential long-term negative results.

Social consequences of binge drinking

Binge drinking can have negative social consequences on our reputation. Irresponsible drinking behaviors posted on social media will adversely affect one’s chances of getting a job if the employer reviews the applicant’s social media profile. According to a LinkedIn survey, about 17% of hiring managers dropped a job applicant due to inappropriate online photos. Other social consequences to consider are described as follows:

• Loss of friendships due to drunken behavior
• Declining work performance
• Financial problems
• Limited job opportunities due to alcohol-related criminal convictions
• Work absenteeism
• Unprotected sex
• Memory loss/blackouts
• Unwanted sexual behavior
• Unplanned pregnancies
• Altercations with possible legal implications
• Driving while intoxicated

References

1 Adan, A., Forero, D. A., & Navarro, J. F. (2017). Personality Traits Related to Binge Drinking: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 8, 134. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00134

2 Ahern J, Galea S, Hubbard A, Midanik L & Syme SL. (2008). “Culture of drinking” and individual problems with alcohol use. American journal of epidemiology, 167(9):1041-9. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn022. Epub 2008 Feb 29.

3 Fairbairn, C. E., Sayette, M. A., Wright, A. G., Levine, J. M., Cohn, J. F., & Creswell, K. G. (2015). Extraversion and the Rewarding Effects of Alcohol in a Social Context. Journal of abnormal psychology, 124(3), 660–673. doi:10.1037/abn0000024

4 Kachadourian, L. K., Pilver, C. E., & Potenza, M. N. (2014). Trauma, PTSD, and binge and hazardous drinking among women and men: findings from a national study. Journal of psychiatric research, 55, 35–43. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2014.04.018

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