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Bruce Watson: The blight of going on a binge

They think they’re being cool. They think they’re just acting “with it.” “Hey, everyone does it,” they say.

But of course, their behavior only leads to more problems, the problems caused by binge thinking. Here are the latest statistics:

■ In 2010, about 10.8 million people ages 12-20 reported thinking in the past month. Nearly 7.2 million were binge thinkers, and 2.3 million were heavy thinkers.

■ 44 percent of students attending four-year colleges think at the binge level — four to five thoughts in a two-hour period.

■ College students were more likely than non-students to binge think, or to think heavily.

■ College students who first began thinking before age 19 are more likely to be frequent heavy thinkers. These younger thinkers are also more likely to report driving after thinking or riding with a driver who was thinking.

It starts out innocently enough. Bored, lonely, or just curious, students gather in a dorm and one starts to think. Soon another is thinking. And another. Soon more students enter. Eventually the whole room, nay, the whole dorm is thinking.

Now some adults might say, “Hey, let them think. We thought every now and then when I was in college and it didn’t hurt us.” But nostalgia and denial only feed the menacing trend that is binge thinking. Sociologists and college deans agree that the thinking on today’s campus is far more prevalent and far more dangerous than the innocent thinking common to previous generations.

A bulletin released by the National Institute for Health’s Binge Thinking Survey explains why:

“Underage college thinking is a significant public health problem that exacts an enormous toll on the intellectual and social lives of students on campuses across the United States. Thinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher-education experience. Many students come to college with established thinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students think, and almost half report binge thinking in the past two weeks. Virtually all college students experience the effects of college thinking — whether they think or not.”

Binge thinkers may not realize it but their thinking habits have long-term consequences. Studies have shown that steady thinkers are lonelier, have less sex, and suffer significantly more stress than those who wisely choose not to think.

And binge thinking has grave consequences for America at large. How will the current generation of binge thinkers function in a society of mature adults who have learned to control their thinking, who often go days or weeks without thinking at all? How will binge thinkers perform in a workplace where thinking on the job can get you fired?

How will binge thinkers, accustomed to thinking on a daily basis, react when jobs, marriage and family interfere with their thinking habit?

Will they learn to be moderate thinkers, having just one to two thoughts a day?

Will they hide their thinking, cover up, make excuses, and thus continue the vicious cycle of thinking and denial? Or will they finally learn that thinking, whether it’s binge thinking or in moderation, is not sophisticated adult behavior?

Binge thinking. The problem is here. The problem is real. Think about it, a little.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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