Why one is never enough:
The psychology of binge drinking
“This synne hath
manye speces. The
firste is dronkenesse,
that is the horrible
sepulture of mannes
resoun; and therfore,
whan a man is dronken,
he hath lost his resoun;
and this is deedly
Geoffrey Chaucer “The Parson’s Tale”
• Binge drinking has multiple determinants.
• These include psychological vulnerabilities,
but increased availability of alcohol is
consistently associated with increased
problems in most Western societies.
• A concerted evidence based response
involving legislators, educators and the
alcohol industry is required to combat this.
Alcohol on the brain: Short-circuited and
• Alcohol Myopia Theory:
Seeing the tree but
missing the forest.
• Dynamics of rising and
falling Blood Alcohol
• Gender effects
“Show me the way to the next whiskey bar….”
In common with most drugs alcohol stimulates
reward circuits in the brain: Some people find this
hard to resist.
As blood alcohol levels rise, attention tends to narrow
and focus on immediate cues rather than more relote
Less: “What will I do when I’ve finished my drink ?”
More: “What will I drink next, and where will I drink it ?”
Factors linked to binge drinking by
1. Male 17-23
2. Family history of substance misuse & depression
3. Impulsive personality traits
4. Depression or Anxiety
5. Motivational factors such as positive beliefs about
alcohol and its effects
Expectations as self-fulfilling prophecies
• Measuring alcohol expectancies e.g “I have
more fun when I to drink a lot ” can correctly
classify 60% of binge drinkers.
• This suggests possible targets for public
health campaigns: Expectancies can be
modified, personality can not.
Environmental Factors linked to binge drinking
Two influences on availability
Higher cost means less drinking
Longer opening hours could mean higher
consumption of alcohol
Two key questions
1.Could there be a cumulative escalating effect
of existing marketing and pricing policies?
2. Could this be an opportunity to moderate
binge drinking as drinkers come to realise
that there’s no rush?
• No special deals on drinks or “happy hours”
• Costs proportionate to ABV / less margins on non-
• Food available throughout licensed hours
• Complete ban on smoking
• Seating for all customers
• Less loud music
• Alcohol disrupts normal cognitive processes proportionate to the
quantity consumed and the speed of consumption: The
disinhibiting effect of alcohol is a key factor in prolonging binge
drinking and the hazardous consequences.
• Psychological research has generated insight into binge
drinking, but it is difficult to achieve restraint in a culture where
alcohol is becoming more available due to lesser cost and
• Reducing the quantity of alcohol consumed, and/or the speed at
which it is consumed should reduce harm.
• Resources spent on prevention are likely to be money well
Chaluba, F.J., Grossman, M., Saffer, H. (2002) The effect of price
on alcohol consumption and alcohol related problems. Alcohol
Research and Health, 26. 22-34.
Morawska & Oei (2005) Binge drinking in university students: A test
of the cognitive model. Addictive Behaviors, 30. 203-218
Steele, C.M., & Josephs, R.A. (1990) Alcohol myopia: Its prized
and dangerous effects. American Psychologist, 45, 921-933
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