Most of what is known about alcohol consumption by college students comes from survey data. Yet much of what is "known" about college drinking may be underestimated, according to findings published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. An examination of college students' ability to define "standard drinks" suggests that college students drink significantly more than they think they do.
"For some reason, we've all just sort of assumed that we can take students' responses on surveys at face value," said Aaron M. White, assistant research professor in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and first author of the study, "that if they say they had three drinks, then they really had three drinks. This study suggests that it's just not that simple. Students tend to have pretty liberal views about what constitutes a single drink. In fact, if a student tells us they had three drinks, there's a good chance it was more like five or six. This is a big difference, particularly if we're trying to figure out how many students qualify as 'binge drinkers' based on their self-reported drinking habits."
White and his colleagues asked 106 undergraduate students (54 males, 52 females) to complete a 12-item survey designed to gather basic information about students' current drinking habits, and three tasks. The tasks involved free-pouring either beer, a shot of hard liquor, or alcohol for a mixed drink into cups of different sizes according to each subject's estimation of a "standard" drink. The student-poured volumes were then compared to volumes of standard drinks used in the Harvard School of Publ