Whether you’re a social butterfly or a wallflower, the truth of the matter is we can get lost among a big group of friends. Attaining the status of the queen bee or the alpha male of your inner circle may be as simple as going to the bar and having a few drinks. According to a recent study forthcoming in the October issue of Addictive Behaviors, young men and women who binge drink are found to earn respect and achieve a higher social status among their group of friends.
“Research already demonstrates that young people use alcohol for social means … as a way of fitting in,” Dr. Tara Dumas, lead author of the study, told The Daily Beast. In college, students experience the effects of college drinking, whether they drink or not. These effects are usually negative consequences — from death to health problems/suicide — resulting from excessive drinking. While college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults aged 26 and older.
Familiar to the college scene, Graham and her colleagues from various Canadian institutions expressed concern about a possible paradigm of risky drinking and its role on group status among same-sex natural drinking groups. Over 350 young adults who were headed to bars in Ontario between May and July 2012 were observed to examine their drinking patterns, social status in their natural drinking groups, and to assess the gender differences in these relationships. The researchers hypothesized binge drinking would be associated with higher status for men but were unclear about its effects for women, since Graham believes there is more disapproval of heavy drinking by women.
The participants were asked to complete a follow-up online survey to report their usual drinking pattern within the past year. This included how much binge episodes — the number of drinks consumed and how often these episodes happen — influenced their opinions of friends. Men who consume five or more drinks, and women who consume four or more drinks, in about two hours are described as binge drinking.
The findings revealed men who engaged more often in binge drinking, and women who drank more frequently, were nominated by their peers as occupying higher-status positions within their natural drinking groups compared to their peers who drank less. However, after a certain point, participants no longer thought binge drinking was “cool” when participants consumed more than 12 drinks on one occasion. They did not have any more popularity than others, and in some cases, had lower popularity.
"Young adults' drinking may be positively reinforced because it helps them achieve or maintain positive social standing among friends, however, it is particularly concerning the riskiest forms of drinking, particularly for men, are associated with status," said Dr. Kathyrn Graham, study author affiliated with Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute, according to Medical Xpress.
The researchers do not know why a higher social status is associated with heavy drinking. They speculate for young men, it may be related to the perception that tolerating large amounts of alcohol is associated with masculinity. For women, alcohol tolerance is viewed positively by the female participants and often regarded as a sign that they can “keep up with the boys.” While the researchers do not know whether the same results would be found elsewhere, they believe there is some qualitative research to suggest drinking larger amounts per sitting might be associated with status.
A 2012 study published in the American Sociological Association found binge drinking is associated with high status, and binge drinkers are happier with their college social experience than their non-binge drinking peers. In addition, students form higher status groups were more likely than their peers from lower status groups to binge drink. The students who were considered to be more socially powerful were found to drink more.
The findings from these studies suggest there should be more emphasis by young adults aged 18 to 34 years old, and their status when it comes to prevention programming for alcohol use. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking kills about 88,000 people per year.
Source: Bernards S, Dumas TM, Graham K, Wells S. Drinking to reach the top: Young adults' drinking patterns as a predictor of status within natural drinking groups. Addictive Behaviors. 2014.