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What's Your Drinking Personality?

Experts explore the differences in alcohol-induced behaviors.
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Alcohol and Promiscuity

While some drinkers look for fights, others look to satisfy feelings of love -- or, more precisely, lust. "Our culture tells us that alcohol and sex go together, yet it is illegal to use alcohol to facilitate sex," says Aaron White, PhD, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center.

Licentious behaviors linked to drinking range from mildly annoying to downright dangerous. Looping an arm around the shoulders of an acquaintance is one thing. Acting like a sexual predator is another thing altogether, and can escalate into an act of violence. White calls alcohol "the No. 1 date-rape drug." And he blames not only the perpetrators, but our culture at large.

"We don't view people as responsible when they've been drinking," White tells WebMD. "We live in a culture in which alcohol is used as an excuse for behaviors."

Cultural Influences on Drinking

That's not the case universally, says Stanton Peele, PhD, adjunct psychology professor at New School University and author of the book Seven Tools to Beat Addiction.

"In some cultures, intoxicated behaviors are heavily disapproved of. When people become drunk they don't act the same way [that Americans do]," he says. He cites southern European countries, where alcohol is typically introduced early, within the context of family gatherings. "It demystifies alcohol and, as a result, you don't see so much acting out. Instead, drinking alcohol is associated with meals and convivial good times," Peele tells WebMD.

In most U.S. households, parents take a vastly different approach. "We tell young adults never to drink. It gives them a tremendous excuse to act out when they do drink," Peele says.

A recent U.S. survey of 644 women aged 17 to 35 conducted by the American Medical Association backs this theory. When asked if they use drinking as an excuse for outrageous behavior, 74% responded in the affirmative.

Shifting Ideas About 'Normal' Consumption

Is it possible to change the widely held belief that it's OK to act stupid and irresponsible when drinking? Since it's a culturally accepted norm among many young adults, it stands to reason that such a change would require a "shift" in thinking about what's normal. That's exactly what social-norms marketing attempts to do.

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