Social Drinkers: More Likely to Become Alcoholics
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Social Drinkers: More Likely to Become Alcoholics


This rather dry article in the University Herald might read like a boring research report, but it contains some interesting bits of semi-surprising information regarding social drinking—and its capacity to turn into full-fledged alcoholism.


The Study

Researchers from the University of Chicago found that “heavy social drinkers who report greater stimulation and reward from alcohol are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder over time.” In other words, heavy drinkers who most enjoyed alcohol’s pleasurable effects when they were in their 20s “were the ones with the riskiest drinking profiles in the future and most likely to go on and have alcohol in their 30s,” Andrea King, lead researcher of the study, said in a statement. “In comparison, participants reporting fewer positive effects of alcohol were more likely to mature out of binge drinking as they aged.”

The study lasted six years and analyzed the subjective response of 104 young-adult heavy social drinkers to alcohol, tracking their habits over the long term. The researchers focused on people who previously reported a pattern of binge drinking when they were younger—”at least four (for women) or five (for men) drinks per occasion, between one and five times per week.”

“We knew that at age 25, there were binge drinkers who were sensitive to alcohol’s more positive effects,” King said. “We just didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Now we show that they’re the ones more likely to go on to experience more alcohol problems.”

In the End…

The culture of binge drinking is still alive and well on college campuses across the nation, but we rarely hear about it persisting into the 20s. The lack of data about these types of drinkers is, I believe, surprising. This particular study’s findings drive home the point that anyone, from any walk of life, can become an alcoholic—alcoholism doesn’t always look like some homeless guy sleeping under a bridge or a bored housewife at home with her two kids. Drinking problems are widespread and equal opportunity, and behaviors we develop in college and beyond can, clearly, come back to haunt us later. This, of course, isn’t to say that every social imbiber or binger ends up alcoholic—just perhaps those folks who have little but fuzzy memories of their wild “social drinking” days.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.