Drinking Games in the College Environment: A Review

By Borsari, Brian | Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, September 2004 | Go to article overview
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Drinking Games in the College Environment: A Review

Borsari, Brian, Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Drinking games among American college students, although popular, contribute significantly to excessive drinking and alcohol-related problems. Drinking games appear to facilitate socialization, and are especially prevalent among younger students. This article reviews the qualitative and quantitative research on drinking games. Findings from qualitative studies suggest that students participate in drinking games to intoxicate themselves and others, to facilitate socialization, and for competition. Quantitative studies have identified motives for initiating and stopping drinking games, as well as age and gender differences in participation. Research findings highlight the importance of educating students about the risks associated with playing drinking games. Specifically, students should be alerted about the heightened risk of extreme intoxication and consequences that can result from playing drinking games. Women are at particular risk for experiencing sexual assault in the drinking game context. Alternative socialization opportunities should be provided to the students to counteract the inherent social advantages of drinking game participation.



Drinking games have emerged as a considerable influence on college alcohol use in the past 20 years. They have become increasingly popular since the 1950s and 1960s (Douglas, 1987), and have been the subject of books (Griscom, Rand, Johnson & Rand, 1988) and even television shows (Vranica, 2002). Currently, there are well over 150 different drinking games popular on college campuses, and prevalence estimates of self-reported drinking game participation in the past month range from 47% to 62% (Borsari, Bergen-Cico & Carey, 2003; Johnson, Wendel & Hamilton, 1998; Nagoshi, Wood, Cote & Abbit, 1994). Drinking games all have a common goal: to get the participants intoxicated (Douglas, 1987; Green & Gilder, 1990; Newman, Crawford, & Nellis, 1991). Refusal to drink during a game frequently results in heckling and disapproval from fellow players. As a result, large quantities of alcohol are often consumed by players (Green & Grider, 1990).

Research on drinking games indicates that they contribute significantly to the heavy college drinking that has generated a great deal of concern over the past decade. Excessive alcohol use on college campuses increases the chances of accidents and fatalities, and results in destructive behaviors such as damaging property, interpersonal conflicts (e.g., arguments or fights), and risky or unplanned sexual activity. In addition, students that drink heavily often miss more classes, fall behind in schoolwork, and receive poor grades (see Perkins, 2002, for a review of alcohol-related consequences). The students that must share the college environment with such heavy drinkers also experience problems ranging from minor inconveniences such as having their sleep or studies disturbed to such criminal acts as sexual assault (Wechsler, Dowdall, Maenner, Gledhill-Hoyt & Lee, 1998).

Overall, the adverse effects of heavy alcohol use on college campuses necessitated the formation of a National Task Force on College Drinking comprised of researchers, educators and students (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, [NIAAA], 2001a, 2001b). After a detailed review of the literature on college drinking, the Task Force recommended that more research be performed on individual level factors (e.g., drinking game participation) that "are potentially modifiable [and] use this information to point to opportunities for intervention" (NIAAA, 2001a, p. x). This review of qualitative and quantitative research adheres to the Task Force's recommendation in three ways. First, qualitative research provides a detailed description of popular drinking games as well as frequently cited reasons for playing. Second, quantitative research demonstrates the unique influence of drinking games on college student drinking and alcohol-related consequences, as well as the motives and interpersonal differences associated with game participation.

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