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Tattoos, Piercings Tied to Heavier Drinking in French Study

MONDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- Tattoos and body piercings are increasingly seen as nothing more than a fashion trend in western societies, but a new study in France found that those with body art tended to drink more alcohol than their peers.

In the study, researchers asked nearly 3,000 French youth to take a breathalyzer test as they left bars and other drinking establishments. The readings showed that those with tattoos and body piercings had consumed more alcohol than those without the adornments.

The study is published online and in the July print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"A host of previous studies have routinely shown that individuals with body piercings or tattoos are more likely to engage in risky behavior than non-pierced or non-tattooed people," corresponding author Nicolas Gueguen, a professor of social behavior at the University of Southern Brittany, said in a journal news release.

These risky behaviors include unprotected sex, fighting, theft and drinking.

Educators, parents and doctors should consider tattoos and piercings as potential signs of drinking and use them to begin a conversation about alcohol use and other risky behaviors, Gueguen suggested.

But Myrna Armstrong, professor emeriti at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, pointed out that people have tattoos or body piercings for different reasons, such as religious beliefs. She was not involved in the new study but conducted some of the previous studies mentioned by Gueguen.

Armstrong said she was concerned about "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."

The results of a study Armstrong conducted in 2009 also suggested that there is a difference between having a few tattoos or piercings and having many. "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," she noted in the news release.

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has more about tattoos and body piercings.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, April 16, 2012

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