Loud Music in Bars Hastens Drinking

French researchers say blasting tunes makes patrons down more alcohol in less time

FRIDAY, July 18, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- If busy bars and blasting music seem to go hand in hand, new research from France suggests that might be because loud music encourages more drinking.

The finding is reported in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, and is drawn from research led by Nicolas Gueguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France.

"This is an informative and good study that I think a lot of people will identify with, because it makes a lot of sense," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the Langone Medical Center at New York University. "Because it seems that loud music throws people off their game and renders them less in control of their capacity to moderate their drinking."

Galanter was not a part of the research team, which noted that prior explorations into the effect of music on drinking have already revealed that people spend more time in a bar that plays music than one that doesn't, and that fast music in particular seems to prompt fast drinking. The style of music played in a bar can also affect drinking behavior, although in varying ways, depending on the cultural setting.

In the current effort, the authors observed 40 male patrons between the ages of 18 and 25 while they visited one of two bars located in the western region of France. Both establishments were local hangouts for young people.

The male participants -- unaware that they were being tracked -- were chosen for monitoring only if they were sitting at a table in pairs and had initially ordered an 8-ounce glass of draft beer.

The observations took place over three Saturday nights, with the consent of the bar owners who allowed the volume of the bar music -- primarily top 40 tunes -- to be adjusted randomly (from 72 dB, considered normal, up to 88 dB, considered high) throughout each night.

Finding that higher volumes appeared to egg the men on to drink more and faster, the researchers theorized that louder background sound might be stimulating higher arousal levels among the patrons. They also considered the possibility that louder music might simply make verbal communication less viable, leading to more drinking as a result of less opportunity to interact socially.

Galanter suggested that loud music may be tapping in to, and exacerbating, some of the common social vulnerabilities people bring to a public setting gathering.

"Everybody is subject to using alcohol to cope with anxiety, whether or not they have a problem with alcohol," he said. "And that's why people drink in social situations. And loud music puts them in a frame of mind where they're less coherent, and maybe somewhat distracted, and in a somewhat altered state of consciousness to some modest measure. And so then, they're less able to exercise control over their behavior in order to moderate their drinking."

For their part, Gueguen and his colleagues pointed out that the majority of automobile fatalities in France involve alcohol. They suggested that consumers should be made aware -- through advertising -- of the association between loud music and increased drinking, and that bar owners should consider moderating music levels to minimize drinking.

But Galanter cautioned that the latter goal might prove to be an uphill battle.

"I think the bars may have the opposite point of view," he said with a chuckle. "But I would suggest that people in bars with loud music should think carefully before they even come in about how much they want to drink, so that they won't drink excessively."

More information

For more on young adults and drinking, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

SOURCES: Marc Galanter, M.D., director, division of alcoholism and drug abuse, Langone Medical Center, New York University, and professor, psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; October 2008, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
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