March Madness is a time of year that many sports fans enjoy. The term refers to the month when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments begin, and it describes the frenetic energy surrounding the events. For a few weeks, many games are aired in rapid succession, allowing fans to see a lot of crucial basketball in a relatively short period. But how many Americans celebrate and enjoy the tournament by binge drinking makes the madness tragic and real.
A quick internet search is all that’s necessary to illustrate the prevalence of the March Madness phenomenon. Publications like the Chicago Tribune eagerly advertise drinking games to try and help readers “survive” the NCAA tournament. These games consist of consuming a shot or sip of one’s alcoholic beverage every time something specific happens during the game, such as a mascot appearing or a player making a free throw. Other culinary resources provide seemingly endless “March Madness drink recipes” and shamelessly endorse the trend. Drink names include “The Slam Dunk,” “The Alley-Oop,” and “The Jumpshot,” among many more.
Binge Drinking Defined
Binge drinking is a type of substance use that can be much more harmful than it appears. It is defined as drinking four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more for men. Binge drinking carries health risks and behavioral problems. It is associated with violent behavior like homicide, suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault. This type of drinking can also easily lead to alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol consumption is one of the primary public health concerns on college campuses in the United States. And binge drinking is a serious but preventable public health problem. But unfortunately, cultural norms and social pressures often drive people to participate in this hazardous activity.
Binge Drinking and March Madness
While binge drinking is already common in the US, the behavior increases even more during March Madness. According to a 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a school’s participation in the NCAA Tournament is associated with a 30% increase in binge drinking and a 9% increase in self-reported drunk driving by male students. Both males and females experience a roughly four percentage point increase in the probability of a drunk-driving episode during March Madness, a 9.3% difference for males and a 10.7% difference for females. So, the trend does lead to behavior that is harmful to others.
Researchers have long known that alcohol consumption rises during college sporting events. As reported by the Washington Post, there’s a large body of evidence showing that college students are more likely to binge-drink on football game days. But March Madness takes it to another level. The news source found that nearly 60 percent of male students whose school had just played in the men’s basketball tournament binge drank once more during a two-week period than a male student whose school did not. On average, male students at tournament schools report drinking roughly seven additional alcoholic beverages. In a nutshell,1 in 3 students binge-drink more when their team plays in the NCAA tournament.
A growing body of evidence clearly shows that alcohol consumption during college sporting events has harmful effects on society. The unhealthy tradition of binge drinking during March Madness is just one of them. As a society, we must face the fact that these activities are completely detrimental and counterproductive to the goals of education and athletics.
A Need for Change in Tradition
The CDC states that Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. Yet it seems to be encouraged and even celebrated during times of collegiate competition. One in six US adults binge drink, with 25% doing so at least weekly. But binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 and is nearly twice as common among men than among women. It is a harmful and risky behavior associated with serious injury and multiple diseases.
Perhaps it’s time for some new sports traditions. After all, they must begin somehow. These new traditions don’t need to demonize alcohol or its consumption. But they certainly shouldn’t promote it like the ones we have today.