I know, you're absolutely shocked at the amount of beer and wine consumed at business mixers. OK, just kidding: you're not shocked. Meetup has over 9,000 events a day, and many of them feature drinking. In the startup world, where I spend most of my time, so does the after-work mixer, the startup showcase, the networking group, and the "last hole" at the golf course. After all, if adults want to grab a beer or get a glass of wine, it's their business.
True enough, and that business is growing. Over the past few decades, per capita beer and wine consumption in the U.S. has been ticking up. Unfortunately, so has the death rate--alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death and claims about 88,000 people a year--roughly the population of Newport Beach, California.
Social network influences social drinking.
A new study BMC published last week from Cardiff University and others sheds light on why otherwise reasonable and responsible adults might drink too much in social settings like networking mixers. British researchers tested 2,000 people in real-life group drinking situations.
It turns out, despite what we may know about responsible consumption, the data shows most of us drink to "keep up" with high social-influence folks around us. "Perceptions of one's intoxication appear to arise from comparison to others," the authors write.
Yep, in social groups, we tend to drink like we are afraid our high-schoolers do: to fit in. The study says you are most likely to judge your personal sobriety by that of your same-sex"boss. If you haven't had more than that, you think you're OK--but actually, social mirroring has nothing to do with whether or not that amount is good for you.
Social rank influences drinking.
"High sensitivity to rank position... would have conferred a survival advantage in the evolutionary past. Such hard-wired tendencies may influence people in negative ways in modern society. On the basis of the results described here, we suggest that an inbuilt sensitivity to rank position amongst others can maladaptively lead people to assume they are less drunk and at risk than they actually are."
OK, so to break that down, if socially "high ranking" people are drinking, lower ranking people follow suit. "Thus, when in the company of others who are intoxicated, drinkers were found to be more likely to underestimate their own level of drinking, drunkenness, and associated risks," the researchers share. Other studies have shown the more success someone has, the more they tend to drink.
Further, "rank sensitivity may also explain why drinking increases in a society; if everyone drank another 10 units per week, no one would believe themselves to be more at risk of alcohol related disorder as their rank positions would remain the same." If it's normal at work to break things down over a beer--or two or three--you are likely to learn to drink when your boss does.
There's one big exception--the self-fulfilling stupor stops when there are sufficient sober people around. They act like a bellwether that moderates the behavior of the whole group.