Psychology of binge drinking


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Presentation to Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, October 2005

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Psychology of binge drinking

  1. 1. Why one is never enough: The psychology of binge drinking Frank Ryan
  2. 2. Canterbury Tales “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 synne.” Geoffrey Chaucer “The Parson’s Tale”
  3. 3. Overview • 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.
  4. 4. Alcohol on the brain: Short-circuited and short-sighted • Alcohol Myopia Theory: Seeing the tree but missing the forest. • Dynamics of rising and falling Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BACs) • Gender effects
  5. 5. “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 ones: Less: “What will I do when I’ve finished my drink ?” More: “What will I drink next, and where will I drink it ?”
  6. 6. Factors linked to binge drinking by individuals 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
  7. 7. 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.
  8. 8. Environmental Factors linked to binge drinking Availability Availability Availability
  9. 9. Two influences on availability Price: Higher cost means less drinking Licensing Laws: Longer opening hours could mean higher consumption of alcohol
  10. 10. 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?
  11. 11. Ryan’s Bar • No special deals on drinks or “happy hours” • Costs proportionate to ABV / less margins on non- alcoholic drinks • Food available throughout licensed hours • Complete ban on smoking • Seating for all customers • Less loud music
  12. 12. Conclusions and recommendations • 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 greater availability. • 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 spent.
  13. 13. References 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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