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Binge Drinking Does Not Hurt Students' Test Performance


Students, do not take this as a license to binge drink, but the results of a new experiment show that binge drinking the night before taking a test does not have a negative effect on test performance. However, binge drinking can have an impact on mood, attention, ability to drive, and other safety-related activities, as well as health.

The surprising results of this study, which were limited to examining scores on academic test-taking only, do not negate the fact that binge drinking is a dangerous activity. Consequences of binge drinking can include blackouts, alcohol poisoning, impaired memory, loss of sensory perception, risk of liver disease, aggressive behavior, and risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Women who engage in binge drinking may become the victims of rape.

The study’s authors, who are with Boston University School of Public Health and Brown University, found that while binge drinking the night before academic testing generally did not affect the students’ test performance, it could have an impact on problem solving, the ability to write essays, and other skills.

To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers tested 193 university students from the Boston area. Over a four-day period, the volunteers consumed either beer or nonalcoholic beer. Those who consumed beer the first evening were given nonalcoholic beer the second evening. The morning after each beer or nonalcoholic beer activity, the students took practice versions of the Graduate Record Exam and a mock quiz on a lecture they had attended the previous day.

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The students performed equally well on the exams and the quizzes regardless of which beverage they had consumed the night before the testing. The fact that the students scored high on the tests also indicated that they had taken the study seriously.

Jonathan Howland, professor of community health sciences at Boston University, and Damaris Rohsenow, research professor at Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, emphasized that “we do not conclude that excessive drinking is not a risk factor for academic problems.” They noted that other factors, including students’ individual study habits, class attendance, and motivation also have an impact on academic performance.

A report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, entitled “Drinking in America; Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy,” notes that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by people younger than age 21 years is in the form of binge drinks. In another report, “Binge drinking among US adults,” the authors note that the proportion of current drinkers that binge is highest (51%) in the 18- to 20-year old age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that binge drinking is twice as prevalent among men as among women.

Previous studies of binge drinking among students have shown that heavy drinkers have more problems with school performance than their peers who drink less. This experiment was the first to explore an association between binge drinking and academic performance using a controlled approach. While it indicates that binge drinking may not impair academic test-taking abilities the day after drinking, it in no way suggests such drinking behavior is beneficial or benign, and it raises questions for further study.

Boston University Medical Center
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fan AZ et al. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2008 Oct; 93(10): 3833-38
Naimi TS et al. JAMA 2003; 289(1): 70-75
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention