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Tattooed, Pierced, and Plastered

French researchers find young people with both a tattoo and a piercing drink more during a night out at the local bar.
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A guy adorned with tattoos and body piercings walks into a bar, and … is more likely than his clean-skinned friends to exit drunk.

That’s the implication of new research from France, which finds a link between tattoos, piercings, and alcohol consumption among young people out for a good time on a Saturday night.

Echoing a 2009 American study, it suggests sporting a single tattoo doesn’t indicate much of anything. But if you’re both tattooed and pierced, you’re more likely to get tanked and plastered.

This latest look at the relationship between booze and body art is by Nicolas Gueguen of the Universite de Bretagne-Sud. His always-fascinating food-and-drink-related research includes a study that linked loud music with increased alcohol consumption.

To examine the relationship between drinking and body adornment, which is a relatively new phenomenon in France, Gueguen’s team surveyed nearly 2,000 young people (most between the ages of 19 and 21). They were approached as they exited one of 21 bars located in four towns on the Breton Atlantic coast—establishments that cater largely to college students.

After reporting the number of tattoos and piercings they had (if any), each young bar patron took a breathalyzer test to measure his or her blood alcohol content. The results are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“We found that the level of alcohol consumption was not significantly higher with the tattoo-only group compared with the no-tattoo, no-piercing group,” Gueguen reports. However, compared to those two groups, blood alcohol content was significantly higher among those with both piercings and tattoos. What’s more, this difference was particularly pronounced among women.

The findings line up nicely with the 2009 study of American college students, which similarly found “sharp differences in the levels of deviant behavior among those with just one tattoo vs. those with four or more.” Specifically, those with four or more tattoos or seven or more body piercings were more likely to report regular marijuana use, occasional use of other drugs, or a history of being arrested.

One author of that study, Mary Armstrong of Texas Tech University, warned against profiling or stereotyping people simply because they have a tattoo or two. Responding to the new research, she noted that people in their late teens and early 20s are generally a high risk of unhealthy behaviors such as excessive drinking, due to the tendency to experiment at that age.

Gueguen, on the other hand, notes that alcohol consumption varies enormously among members of this age group. He suggests tattoo parlors could be good places to disseminate information about alcohol abuse and treatment.

Come to think of it, a strategically placed tattoo reading “Don’t drink and drive” could be an enormously effective reminder.