University students are happier when they binge drink - at least in some American colleges, a study has found.
Scientists in the US discovered that students who engaged in alcohol-fuelled nights out were generally more cheerful and content than their restrained colleagues.
But the "positive social effects" of binge drinking were no protection against its health hazards, they stressed.
Regular binge drinking can lead to high blood pressure, liver disease and damage to the brain, as well as anti-social behaviour and accidental injuries.
The researchers found a strong drinking culture among "high status" students which they said could explain the link between binge drinking and happiness.
Wealthy, male, white, heterosexual undergraduates affiliated to traditional Greek-letter fraternity organisations were more likely to binge drink.
They also tended to be happier with life at university than lower-status students, such as those from minority groups who struggled to "fit in".
When lower-status students engaged in binge drinking, they became happier, the researchers found. Binge drinking appeared to cancel out the negative effects of having low status.
Conversely, white, wealthy, male, Greek-affiliated students who did not binge drink were less happy than their peers.
Findings from the study, conducted among nearly 1,600 undergraduates at a US arts college, were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.
Dr Carolyn Hsu, from Colgate University, a liberal co-ed arts college in Hamilton, New York, said: "Among all groups, we found that binge drinking and social satisfaction were strongly connected.
"Drinking culture is campus specific. But our results suggest that binge drinking and social satisfaction may also be very much associated at similar predominantly white colleges with high binge drinking rates, a large Greek presence, and a residential campus."
Binge drinking in the UK is defined for men as drinking more than eight units of alcohol - or three pints of strong beer - in a single session. For women, it is drinking more than six units of alcohol, or two large glasses of wine.
The US researchers' definition was consuming at least four drinks for women and five drinks for men.
Among students taking part in the study, the average binge drinker consumed 13.7 drinks per week, and the average non-binge drinker 4.2 drinks.
Dr Hsu added: "Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college. It's what the most powerful, wealthy, and happy students on campus do. This may explain why it's such a desirable activity.
"When lower status students binge drink, they may be trying to tap into the benefits and the social satisfaction that those kids from high status groups enjoy. And, our findings seem to indicate that, to some extent, they succeed."
Students in all groups consistently enjoyed college more when they participated in the campus binge drinking culture, she said.
The researchers found no evidence that unhappy students were binge drinking to self-medicate. In fact the reverse was true - students suffering the most stress, anxiety, and experiences of discrimination or sexual abuse were the least likely to drink.
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