Body Art Equals Increased Alcohol Use: Study
April 17, 2012

Body Art Equals Increased Alcohol Use: Study

A French study of nearly 3,000 young men and women has found that people with tattoos and piercings tend to drink more than their body-art-deprived peers.

Scientists of the study, which was conducted by France´s Universite de Bretagne-Sud, asked men and women exiting 21 different bars in four cities on four different Saturday nights if they would take a blood-alcohol breath test, and of those who agreed, the researchers found that people with tattoos consumed more alcohol than those without.

“Pierced and/or tattooed individuals had consumed more alcohol in bars on a Saturday night than patrons in the same bars who were non-pierced and non-tattooed,” said corresponding study author Nicolas Guéguen, professor of social behavior at the French university.

Previous studies have shown that risky behavior -- unprotected sex, theft, violence and alcohol use -- is much more common in individuals sporting tattoos. The new findings correlate with the drinking aspect of those studies.

Tattoos and body piercings have become more and more popular in western societies, and many consider them to be fashion trends. While people acquire tattoos and piercings for different reasons, it seems no matter what those reasons are, they seem to engage in riskier activities and drink more than those without.

Guéguen´s study, including 1,710 young men and 1,260 young women, was the first of its kind in France to find increased alcohol consumption linked to tattooing and piercing. It will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in July.

Myrna Armstrong, a retired professor from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and author of some of the studies cited by the new research, concurred with the findings.

“However, you need to look at the ages of the groups being examined,” she added. “While France may not have the same issues as North America, the two groups here that tend to favor tattooing and piercing — 13 to 18, and 18 to 25 years of age — are already considered high-risk people in terms of their drinking and other behaviors simply because of their ages and their age-related desires to experiment.”

Tattoos and piercings are a relatively new fad in France, and those under 18 need permission from their parents before they can receive them. Men tested in the new study were on average 20.6 years old and women were 20.2 years old.

Guéguen found of the men studied, those with no body art had an average measure of 0.18 milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled air, lower than France´s 0.25 drink driving limit. In those with tattoos, the measure increased to 0.19; 0.23 in those with piercings; and 0.26 in those with both tattoos and piercings.

In women, those who had no body art had an average measure of 0.12; those with tattoos, the measure rose to  0.14; 0.20 for those with piercings; and 0.24 for those with both.

Following the surprising results of his study, Guéguen suggested that educators, parents and physicians consider tattoos and piercings as potential “markers” of drinking, using them to begin a conversation about alcohol consumption as well as other risky behaviors.

“I thought the approach to studying this topic was fascinating,” said Armstrong. “However, I am concerned with the tendency to see a tattoo or piercing and automatically profile or stereotype that individual as a 'high-risk person' as this may or may not be conducive for helping them.”

“A clinician, for example, can spend some time not judging individuals about their present tattoos, but talking to them about safe tattooing, etc. and alcohol in general “¦ not because they have tattoos or piercings but because they are in a high-risk age group,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong also noted that there is a difference between those who have only a few tattoos and those who have many.

“In 2009, we conducted a study of those with one to two, three to four, and five or more tattoos,” she said. “We found that those with only one tattoo were very similar to those without any tattoos in terms of high-risk behaviors, including alcohol. We also graded body piercings and found that individuals with seven or more were the really high-risk group. In other words, be very careful about generalizing among those with many tattoos or piercings and those with only one.”