In the study, psychologists from the University of Kent and the University of East Anglia found evidence that being in a group can reduce some effects of alcohol consumption.
The findings could lead to the design of new interventions designed to promote safer recreational drinking.
Researchers asked University of Kent students who were drinking in groups in bars and at a music festival at its Canterbury campus to decide what levels of risk they thought was acceptable before recommending someone should take various actions.
Investigators discovered that students accepted a higher level of risk when they were drinking and deciding alone, rather than when they were drinking and deciding in a group of others.
For the study, researcher’s assessed 101 participants aged 18-30 who were in groups. Investigators compared groups of people who were just under the drink-driving limit with groups that had not consumed any alcohol.
The participants first gave their private opinions about how much risk they would accept before recommending a potentially risky action — for example, whether it would be acceptable to drive to collect a friend from an airport after drinking.
They then re-joined the group and discussed a second problem and the group had to agree how much risk would be acceptable.
Dr. Tim Hopthrow, of Kent’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes, said, “When intoxicated, it is known that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior, including the use of illicit drugs, engaging in violent and other criminal activity, and driving at dangerous speeds. Our findings confirmed that individual risk decisions are increased by higher alcohol consumption.
“Our previous research, which had been conducted in laboratory conditions, showed that effects of alcohol consumption that affect people drinking alone — such as becoming riskier — are reduced or eliminated when people make judgments together with other drinkers in a group.
In the study, researchers wanted to establish whether this behavior would hold true in real drinking situations outside the laboratory, such as a bar or concert, where there are many other influences at work.
Investigators discovered that, even in these natural settings, social interaction in groups can reduce the tendency of individual drinkers to accept risks.
Alcohol consumers accepted more risk when deciding alone but the least risk when deciding as a group. The scientists believe this is because drinkers in groups monitor one another closely, becoming more cautious when directly asked whether to take a risk.
Thus, when drinking moderately, there may be safety in numbers.
The research is published in the journal Addiction.
Source: University of Kent