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It’s easy for research study results to get a little twisted when they make the transition from press release to news story, especially when it’s possible to pull an exciting, contrary story out of the headlines in search of a quick traffic bump.  Sadly, we’re seeing that done to a study released yesterday at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, CO. This non-peer reviewed study has been generating a lot of buzz - and getting badly misinterpreted.

The study finds that on college campuses with a large fraternity scene, binge drinking is often associated with higher social status. The students in fraternities often hold the most status, and happen to binge drink more than other students, and so binge drinking is seen by some students as being the key to acceptance by these higher-status members of the community. They want to emulate these students who appear to be enjoying this fun-filled Animal House sort of lifestyle that they see high-status students enjoying.

However, many students in the study who engage in this behavior say that they don’t enjoy the binge drinking. They do it because it’s a way for them to associate themselves with this higher status group.

While it’s tempting for many to spin this as ‘college students binge drink to be happy,’ this isn’t what’s going on here. The study merely illustrates what many already know – that many college students are taken in by the idea that, in college, you have to binge drink to be popular or well-liked.

This is a problem we’ve been very aware of, and combatting through student campaigns against binge drinking and researching student perspectives on binge drinking. By short-circuiting this association between binge drinking and social status, we can finally start to see a decline in college binge drinking and healthier, safer students.