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Don't Drink and Drive? Binge Kids Don't Care

Binge drinkers less likely to perceive risk of driving

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 6 -- "Don't drink and drive."

"Appoint a designated driver."

"Alcohol and gasoline don't mix."

Powerful messages that would keep any college student from hopping behind the wheel after downing too many beers, right?

Not so, say University of Arkansas researchers who found that young adults -- particularly those characterized as "binge drinkers" -- were likely to ignore the warnings, particularly when they were coupled with bar promotions offering reduced-rate drinks.

The researchers showed fictitious promotions to almost 200 local college students and asked them to assess how they'd respond to different messages. After these assessments were completed, the students were asked about their alcohol consumption during the past two weeks. Those who reported consuming five drinks in one sitting were classified as binge drinkers. Others were classified as non-binge drinkers.

The study consisted of two parts. The first looked at whether bar promotions touting beer and wine price reductions, and the amount of time the special prices would be available, had any effect on students' attitudes and inclinations to drink. This part of the study involved 189 students.

In the second part, the researchers examined the effect on 164 participants of bar promotions coupled with so-called "personal responsibility messages" like "Don't drink and drive."

"Not surprisingly, the students thought they would drink more when prices were lower or when promotions, like 'All you can drink,' were offered," says Scot Burton, one of the lead authors of the study and a marketing professor at the University of Arkansas.

Joel Grube, senior research scientist with the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif., says the Arkansas researchers "found the sorts of things one would expect -- the better the deal on the drinks, the more people said they would drink and the more positive they were toward the bar and the ad."

This was true regardless of whether a person was considered a binge drinker or not. Binge drinkers, however, said they'd be more likely to hit the bars than non-binge drinkers.

"The promotion affected binge drinkers' intentions of going to the bar more strongly than it affected non-binge drinkers' intentions," says Burton.

The study findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

Extensive literature on drinking and prices has already shown that alcohol is, to some extent, elastic: People drink more when the price goes down, and drink less when the price goes up, says Grube.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study involved binge drinkers and the personal-responsibility messages to temper behavior.

"If the responsibility message was present, they saw less risk in driving," says Grube. "That has implications for warning messages in all kinds of advertising."

In a way, this is a rebellious response -- tell young adults what to do and they do the opposite -- but with potentially disastrous consequences, Grube says.

Millie Webb is national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She says, "In no way do we want to downplay counter messages, but we know they are only effective in certain populations. If a person is responsible, they will respond."

Grube says one shortcoming of the study may be that it lacked realism. The researchers weren't looking at actual behavior, but at how students thought they might behave in a given situation.

What To Do

To learn more about work in the area of preventing alcohol-related problems, visit the Prevention Research Center.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has information on prevention, causes, consequences and treatment of alcohol-related problems.

For more information on drunken driving and what you can do about it, visit Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

SOURCES: Interviews with Joel Grube, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.; Millie Webb, national president, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Franklin, Tenn.; Scot Burton, Ph.D., marketing professor, Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Journal of Public Policy and Marketing
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