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17% of college students drive after too much booze

John Egan

Seventeen percent of college students surveyed for a study about the consequences of binge drinking say they’ve driven a car when they knew they’d had too much booze to drink, and 8 percent say they’d done so in the previous year.

Kevin King, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, says those figures don’t appear in the published version of the study.

‘Rose-colored beer goggles’

Overall, the study found that some college students think the social benefits of heavy drinking outweigh any harm. Researchers coined a term for this phenomenon — “rose-colored beer goggles.”

For students who reported driving after drinking too much, their perception of that kind of behavior was less negative compared with students who said they’d never gotten behind the wheel after consuming too much alcohol, King says.

“This study suggests why some people can experience a lot of bad consequences of drinking but not change their behavior,” King says. “People think, ‘It’s not going to happen to me’ or ‘I’ll never drink that much again.’ They do not seem to associate their own heavy drinking with negative consequences.”

The study was done by King and other psychologists at the University of Washington and was published by Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a journal of the American Psychological Association. It was financed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

National studies have shown that roughly 20 percent to 25 percent of college students have driven while intoxicated. Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, says: “College students have limited driving experience, making drinking and driving possibly even more hazardous.”

Blackouts vs. banter

For the University of Washington study, nearly 500 college students completed an online survey measuring their drinking habits during the previous year. The survey assessed how often the participants had experienced 35 negative consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, fights, hangovers and missed classed, as well as 14 positive effects of drinking, including better conversational and joke-telling abilities, improved sexual encounters and more energy for late-night partying.

Researchers also measured the participants’ beliefs about how likely all of these drinking consequences were to happen again, and how positive or negative they were. Study participants rated the social benefits of drinking as more positive and more likely to happen in the future.

The study points out that recent national data indicate 69 percent of college students reported drinking alcohol in the previous month. Each year, college students’ drinking causes 1,800 accidental deaths (including traffic fatalities) and 500,000 injuries.

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