Drinking Rituals Among
the Heaviest Drinkers:
College Student Binge Drinkers
Joyce M. Wolburg
University of Florida
I have watched the people I love most lose everything to drugs and alcohol, and yet I still drink in excess…. About a year ago, we were a family ravaged by addiction and on the brink of disaster…. So why, after all the suffering … do I continue to drink in excess, often to the point of alcoholism myself? The answer: I'm young, I'll live forever, and it will never happen to me. (Wolburg, 2001, p. 29)
This quote reflects the questions that heavy drinkers ask themselves during moments of introspection, as well as the glib denial of the problem and its consequences. Considering the risks that drinkers take, the question—“Why do I continue to drink in excess?“—baffles not only the drinkers themselves, but also many university administrators, psychologists, and developers of public service announcements (PSAs).
To find some answers to the question of why people drink, this chapter examines the ritualized drinking behavior as reported across multiple published studies. In particular, it examines the behavior of two important groups, college student binge drinkers and alcoholics, who “literally keep the industry afloat” (Jacobson & Mazur, 1995). Jacobson and Mazur estimated that members of these two groups make up the 10% of the adult population who drink about 60% of all alcohol consumed (p. 165).
Defining the two groups presents a set of challenges in itself. Binge drinkers are traditionally defined by the amount of consumption, whereas alcoholics are defined by the amount of dependence on alcohol. A team of Harvard researchers de