Drinking games aren’t just a part of college culture – they’re a part of American culture, as well. While you can find any number of unique drinking game variations online, you can even download them directly to smart devices from your operating systems app store.
These games may seem to promote a social nature of causal drinking that seems harmless, but excessive alcohol consumption can be hazardous.
We surveyed over 1,000 Americans to understand not just the drinking games people play, but also the amount of alcohol they consume over a short period and the negative emotions that come with these seemingly harmless games.
Like Kings, where players place a deck of cards around a can of beer and drink based on the assignment of the cards they draw, or Power Hour, where players take a shot of beer every 60 seconds as a playlist of predetermined songs plays in the background. Curious just how dangerous drinking games can be? Continue reading to learn more.
Above, you can see descriptions of five common drinking games played at parties and social gatherings by people of all ages. Each of them involves excessive alcohol consumption in a relatively short period, occasionally with a competitive or team-based theme.
In the case of Power Hour (a game where roughly 60 ounces of alcohol is consumed in an hour-long round), only one round of play is necessary to get players to a 0.08 blood alcohol level.
Many of these games focus on getting participants as inebriated as possible in a single round. In the real world, binge drinking is considered one of the most common examples of excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S.
Mostly popular among adults between 18 and 34 years old, binge drinking – and drinking games – aren’t exclusive to college-aged kids. Millions of Americans report episodes of binge drinking each year, which can lead to health problems like alcohol poisoning, unintentional injuries (like car crashes), and even death.
The blood alcohol content of people playing these games can increase significantly in a relatively short amount of time.
While the National Institute of Health identifies this as “mild impairment,” it can still lead to memory, coordination, and speech issues, as well as drowsiness.
One game, in particular, Flip Cup, increases the BAC of players significantly faster. Described by some as one of America’s favorite drinking games, players can experience a BAC of 0.05 within 10 minutes of playing the game, which can increase to 0.15 after 30 minutes. Described as an “increased impairment,” players could experience increased aggression, a risk of injury, and significant impairment to all driving skills. It only takes 32 minutes to reach a 0.16 BAC while playing Flip Cup, which can lead to amnesia, vomiting, or a loss of consciousness.
The most popular games were Beer Pong and Flip Cup. While more than 60 percent of people have played Flip Cup, 90 percent played Beer Pong. While these games may feel casual or safe because they happen among friends or even family, games that can lead to severe levels of intoxication or even alcohol poisoning are dangerous. The more someone drinks in these games, the more likely they are to pass from the point of sleepiness to a feeling of euphoria that can lead to a loss of inhibition or the ability to make smart decisions.
More than a third of participants have played Kings and A–hole at least once, and over 1 in 5 have played Power Hour – the least popular of the five drinking games.
We asked people from different parts of the U.S. to rank how they felt after playing drinking games on a scale of not at all buzzed, somewhat buzzed, and completely drunk. While feeling buzzed may seem safer than being drunk, even a moderate amount of alcohol (without the feeling of being buzzed) can impair basic functionality like people’s driving skills.
When playing Beer Pong, a majority of people in Southern and Eastern states admitted to getting buzzed or drunk over the course of the game.
Beer Pong had one of the quickest increase in BAC levels of any drinking game researched, and respondents from these states were the most likely to report feeling intoxicated while playing. Those from Western and Southern states were the most likely to report feeling “buzzed” after playing Beer Pong.
When playing games like Kings and A–hole, people we surveyed from Western states including Nevada, California, and Oregon acknowledged getting drunk from these games.
While drinking games may seem geared toward college students and young adults, our survey found participants of all ages enjoyed playing drinking games.
Beer Pong was the most popular game overall, but baby boomers were quite fond of it. Over 74 percent of baby boomers said they most played Beer Pong.
Between 11 and 22 percent of those surveyed said the quickly intoxicating Flip Cup was their favorite of the five games, and nearly 1 in 4 Gen Xers said A–hole was their go-to game.
While Kings and Power Hour were the least popular, more than 1 in 10 millennials still agreed Kings – a game with an unlimited number of drinks each round – was their favorite.
We asked survey participants to identify the negative emotions they experienced while playing each of the five drinking games studied.
Overwhelmingly, the most common response was a sense of anxiety during the games – ranging from a low of 6 percent to a high of nearly 17 percent of respondents feeling this emotion during gameplay.
Any level of alcohol consumption is going to change the level of serotonin in the brain, which can create greater anxiety. This can occur while drinking and can escalate once drinking has stopped. Even after a person has stopped consuming alcohol, anxiety caused by increased levels of serotonin can last for hours or even an entire day. The correlation between anxiety and alcohol consumption doesn’t just stop there. Roughly 1 in 5 people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol misuse.
However, Beer Pong was the least likely to induce anxiety, with less than 8 percent of women and 6 percent of men saying Beer Pong made them feel anxious. Some even said they felt a sense of shame and sadness during the game.
A–hole had the strongest response to anxiety, with nearly 17 percent of women and 13 percent of men saying it left them feeling anxious, which can include symptoms such as nervousness, fear, and even an increased heart rate or breathing issues.
Though most drinking games are created with the intention of making players drink at an aggressive pace, rules continue to be altered to make these games even more potent.
Drinkers can face pressure to put more beer in their cups while playing Beer Pong and Flip Cup, while Kings and A–hole have built-in rules designed to punish losing players with increased consumption.
Fortunately, there are some harm reduction techniques that can take some of the pressure off binge drinking. Using the techniques above – such as drinking water or soda rather than alcohol, or slowing the flow of beer into their mouths – can help players remain sober for longer and have fun. Controlling the consumption alcohol doesn’t mean the party has to end. It just means drinking at a pace players are comfortable with.
While drinking games may be largely popular with college students (college drinking is considered a major U.S. health concern by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), our survey found nearly everyone surveyed, regardless of age, has participated in a drinking game at some point in their life.
Still, the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, even in social settings, can be severe or even deadly. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol misuse, help is here for you. At American Addiction Centers, we can help you beat your addiction. By connecting you with the best treatment centers and services across the U.S., you can get the support you need to take back your life. Visit us online today at AmericanAddictionCenters.org to learn more.
American Addiction Centers surveyed over 1,000 Americans about their experiences with five of the most popular drinking games. Blood alcohol estimates were based on the commonly taught premise that each 12 ounce beer will raise an average person’s BAC by .02.