If you've ever spent a night or two in a college dorm room in the past twenty years, you're bound to see one thing: drunk college students. They invent amazing methods of intoxication, from throwing ping pong balls into cups of beer to funneling alcohol off of someone's shoe. Nearly 1/3 of college students admit to missing at least one class due to alcohol or drug intoxication. And it doesn't just take a toll on their bodies: college students spend, on average, $900 a year on alcohol - that's twice what they spend on their text books.
So why do students drink so heavily? Research, published in Psychology of Addictive Behavior (PDF), might have found part of the answer - at least for women. A survey of over 3,500 college students found that women thought men wanted them to drink a lot more than they really do.
The female participants were asked questions about how much they thought the average guy wanted a girl he liked or a friend to drink and about their own drinking habits. The guys, in turn, were surveyed for their actual preferences.
An overwhelming 71% of the women surveyed overestimated the men's preferences by an average of one and a half drinks - which might not sound like much, but to a girl weighing 115 lbs, that's a lot of alcohol. A little over one quarter of the women mistakenly believe that men wanted their friends to drink five or more drinks a night - risky levels - and 16.7% said the same of a girl men were most sexually attracted to - which is nearly double what the men really prefer. The women who overestimated the men's desires also drank significantly more, suggesting that their behavior may be tied to their belief that men find it sexy.
That so many women - nearly three quarters - thought the guys in their life wanted them to drink more is unsettling, especially since it was linked to their drinking behavior. While not all female college students are out there pounding that extra glass to get a guy's attention, they do feel the pressure to drink more to look sexy and keep up with perceived standards, even though that's not what the guys really want.
The extra drink and a half is far more dangerous for the women than it is for the men - women have higher blood alcohol concentrations in less time because they have around 10% less water in their bodies and less of the alcohol-metabolizing enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase in their stomachs, research has shown. And getting drunk is riskier for women, too: a woman's chance of experiencing sexual aggression raises 6 to 9 times if she's consumed alcohol, and 90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol has been consumed with 65% of sexual assaults occurring to women who are intoxicated. And it's not just the risk of sexual assault that rises with alcohol consumption: 1 in 5 students abandons safe sex practices while under the influence, and 60% of college women infected with STDs were drunk when they got infected.
Why women have these skewed views of men's desires is unclear. The team plans to reverse the study and see if the same effect occurs in men. The researchers hope that studies like this one will help campuses and educators curb binge drinking in college students, especially female ones where the danger is even higher. Simply knowing that the guys don't actually want their women plastered will hopefully convince a few chicks to drink one fewer instead of one too many.
Joseph W. LaBrie, Jessica Cail, Justin F. Hummer, Andrew Lac, & Clayton Neighbors (2009). What Men Want: The Role of Reflective Opposite-Sex Normative Preferences in Alcohol Use Among College Women Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23 (1), 157-162 DOI: 10.1037/a0013993