Bibo ergo sum: I drink therefore I am
Second-year Psychology students participating in the University Honours College follow a workshop on Blogging Science, in which they learn to communicate science to the general public, by means of informing, giving an opinion, and relating issues in science to issues in society. This year a selection of these written blog posts is published on Mindwise. Today’s post is by Lieke Molenaar.
Students have the reputation of being one of the heaviest drinking groups in society. Of course, we know that drinking is not good for us. We are students and despite a large number of brain cells that die due to alcohol (in fact, it’s the dendrites that get damaged1), we still have enough left to think logically. But thinking and knowing is not the same as acting. One of the biggest factors in drinking is the attitude towards alcohol. Why do students love alcohol so much? Because, although we like to believe so, it is not just about the taste.
It is not so strange that alcohol is inextricably linked with student life. Living on your own ensures freedom from parents’ control. Flexibility of the attendance rules also contribute. A lecture at nine o’clock in the morning is no reason not to party until dawn: if you are hangover in the morning, you just don’t go. Despite this freedom, University studies also create great pressure. The pub is a place to escape the stress.
There is also an information bias. Research shows that students who drink more think that others do this as well.2On average, we even think that our fellow students drink more than we do and that this is normal. As a result, we drink larger quantities than students who do not have this information bias.3
If you drink, you exist.
If you drink, you exist. That makes sense because without liquids you will die. To me, drinking alcohol-free beer, cola or – and I’m almost scared to say this – water is not accepted when going out (unless you’re on drugs). Alcohol is part of going out: alcohol is social, and no alcohol is boring. I can’t deny that alcohol creates memorable moments. But does that mean that alcohol-free evenings automatically don’t matter anymore? That they can’t be better than the evenings with alcohol? No.
Several studies have been conducted on parties with alcohol-free beer.4,5However, the subjects didn’t know they had alcohol-free drinks. The parties were a great success. This means we do not have to drink alcohol to have fun. Thinking that we drink alcohol is enough. Moreover, other research has shown that test subjects took larger gulps – and therefore consumed more – when they thought they drank alcohol, regardless of whether this was the case or not.6Again, the expectancy of alcohol has more influence on drinking behaviour than the physiological effects of alcohol itself.
Seeing alcohol as a means of relaxing, rewarding yourself or celebrating something leads to alcohol being tolerated in almost every situation. These habits continue from student life into the working life of highly educated people. A networking drink on Friday afternoon, a bottle of champagne to celebrate a deal, and a few glasses of wine after a long day at the office. It’s not surprising that there are more highly educated than low educated alcoholics.7We don’t want to become a (highly educated) alcoholic later, but even now it’s not nice to wake up with a hangover every morning. And therefore, something must change. At this moment researchers have already developed hangover-free alcohol, called ‘alcosynth’.8This is less harmful, but still has many positive aspects of alcohol. However, certain substances in the product are only available on prescription and the long-term effects have not yet been fully documented.
As long as alcosynth is not yet on the market, other interventions are needed. We know the consequences of drinking a lot, so I don’t want to warn about that. Of course, not every student drinks (a lot), but a student who does not drink is seen as the odd one out. Therefore, I would like to mention that the attitude towards (not) drinking alcohol can be different. Overhyping alcohol may lead to social pressure and unhealthy drinking behaviour. And supporting sobriety risks feelings of moral magnificence. Consuming alcohol is not ‘cooler’ than taking soda. And on the other hand, people who don’t drink alcohol are no better than the people who do. Let’s not associate a value judgment with alcohol or non-alcohol. Let’s strive for equality. Accept every liquid as it is.
- Freeman, S. (n.d.). Top 10 myths about the brain. How stuff works.com. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/10-brain-myths9.htm
- Miley, W. M., & Frank, M. (2006). Binge and non-binge college students’ perceptions of other students’ drinking habits. College Student Journal, 40(2), 259-262.
- Helmer, S. M., Sebena, R., McAlaney, J., Petkeviciene, J., Salonna, F., Lukács, A., & Mikolajczyk, R. T. (2016). Perception of high alcohol use of peers is associated with high personal alcohol use in first-year university students in three Central and Eastern European countries. Substance Use & Misuse, 51(9), 1224-1231. doi:10.3109/10826084.2016.1162810
- Lang, A. R., Goeckner, D. J., Adesso, V. J., & Marlatt, G. A. (1975). Effects of alcohol on aggression in male social drinkers. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 84(5), 508-518. doi:10.1037/h0077055
- Wilson, G. T., & Lawson, D. M. (1976). Expectancies, alcohol, and sexual arousal in male social drinkers. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 85(6), 587-594. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.85.6.587
- Marlatt, G. A., Demming, B., & Reid, J. B. (1973). Loss of control drinking in alcoholics: An experimental analogue. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 81(3), 233-241. doi:10.1037/h0034532
- Bolle, J. (2016, 17 August). Hoogopgeleide 65ers drinken vaakst overmatig. nl.Retrieved from https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2016/08/17/hoogopgeleide-65ers-drinken-vaakst-overmatig-a1516615
- ANP (2016, 27 September). Binnenkort alcohol drinken zonder kater? nl. Retrieved from https://nos.nl/op3/artikel/2134767-binnenkort-alcohol-drinken-zonder-kater.html