College Students Basically Have Cruise Control for Getting Drunk

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Photo: Catherine Lane/Getty Images/iStockphoto

While college is purportedly for academics, one of the things you learn the most about is drinking. Now some researchers are learning about how college kids drink, and the results are fascinating and embarrassingly familiar: You drink to alter your state of mind, and then stay there.

For a paper in IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, an Ohio State team analyzed the blood alcohol content of nearly 1,500 college students. The researchers found that once students reached their target level of drunkenenness, they modulated their boozing to maintain their buzz. (Surprisingly moderate, in a sloshy, collegiate sense.) The students who wanted to feel “buzzed” hovered around .05 blood alcohol content, or BAC, while those who wanted to get “very drunk” had a .1 BAC, above the legal driving limit.

The team — composed of social workers and engineers — were pleasantly surprised to discover that the human behavior resembled a mechanical one.

“The way the students made decisions about drinking actually resembled the single most common feedback controller that’s used in engineering,” co-author Kevin Passino said in a statement. “It’s called a proportional-derivative controller, and it measures how far a system has moved from a particular set point and adjusts accordingly. It’s the same as cruise control on a car.”

The researchers hope that as they further their work, they’ll eventually be able to build an app that helps tell college students or full-grown adults when they’ve had enough to drink. It’ll be interesting to see how much that interacts with the fact that how inebriated you think you are depends on how wasted your friends are. Is drunkenness absolute, relative, or some schnockered combination of both?