The brain 101: Why college students tend to drink so much

Attending college isn’t just about receiving a higher education and transitioning into adulthood. For many young adults, college also means regular invites to parties and an introduction to drinking.

In a majority of cases, this is the time where young adults are supposed to learn their limits and when to say no to another drink. Unfortunately, the human brain often works against us when it comes to alcohol in social settings, which can put young people in problematic situations later on.

Peer pressure

As a 2016 Business Insider article explains, peer pressure is commonplace at this age, oftentimes giving rise to situations where young people are encouraged by their friends to “have one more” long after they have reached their limit.

The crowd mentality

Drinking too much during our college years goes beyond our friends simply encouraging us to do so, however. In many cases, young people feel compelled to do what everyone else is doing so as not to be seen as the “odd man out.” The need to feel included and part of the group is part of being human. Unfortunately, it can also lead to drinking behaviors based on what everyone else is doing.

The brain game

Unfortunately, these two psychosocial behaviors are not the only factors involved in college-age drinking.

Using positron emission tomography, or PET imaging, researchers with the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California mapped the areas of the brain affected by the consumption of alcohol. In a 2012 study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers concluded that much of our desire to drink is due to the fact that endorphins are released in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward.

Every time we drink, we reinforce this connection, which can eventually lead to addiction for some.

Unfortunate consequences

Although the combination of peer pressure, crowd mentality and endorphins in the brain can explain why college students tend to drink excessively at times, it’s alcohol’s effect on our inhibitions that can lead to serious consequences, including criminal charges related to drinking and driving.

Recognizing these factors is our first step to avoiding these legal consequences. Actively making sound choices is the next.

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