One might say Megan Holmes was a regular on the southern California college party scene.
"Some nights we were out till 2 in the morning, but some were short," she said. "On average we went to at least three or four a night."
But amid the crowds of young women in revealing themed costumes and free-flowing kegs, Holmes may have been the only one at these alcohol-drenched gatherings without a drink in her hand. Instead, she carried a stack of clipboards and a Breathalyzer.
Holmes, who is now working on her doctoral degree at UCLA, was part of a team of researchers who sought to take the study of college drinking to the next level — by venturing inside a total of 66 college parties to see what was really going on. The research was published Thursday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"It wasn't shocking to me because I had just graduated college so I had seen most of this stuff going on before," Holmes said. But she adds that there were some surprises.
"Most shocking to me was that women at themed parties kept dressing less and less," she said. "When I was in college there were themed parties, but I never saw girls just wearing lingerie or just a bra and panties, and that was pretty common at the themed parties I saw."
These observations — along with dozens of Breathalyzer readings and surveys completed on the scene by college partygoers — defied the typical methods of research on college drinking, which normally use questionnaires administered days or months after the bottles have been cleared and the music has stopped.
The researchers had some sobering findings, among them that revelers at smaller parties tended to drink more. This could be explained by simple mathematics; the fewer drinkers on hand, the more booze there is to go around, they said.
But lead study author John Clapp, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies and Services at San Diego State University, says the behavior of women drinkers at themed parties was particularly notable.
"One of [the] most surprising things to us was the theme-party finding that women drank more at these," he said. "We started going to theme parties like toga parties or costume parties, with highly sexualized themes and with the women wearing not very much."
"What was surprising was it was one of few places that we know of that women actually outdrank men; we're not exactly sure why. It could have something to do with fact that they aren't dressed."
Not everyone feels the findings are a surprise. As for whether young women drink more during sexualized theme parties, Peter True, a senior at Boston University, said, "Definitely. They have to be that faded to go out wearing those ridiculous clothes, I'm 100 percent sure."
"There's a direct inverse relationship between how revealing their theme is and how drunk they get," he told ABC News. "At lingerie parties they drink the most. … They have to drink more if they wear less because they have to lower their inhibitions to be seen wearing that out."
The findings of the study seem to point to a combination of sexually charged themes and the presence of alcohol — an interplay that seems to result in a daringly permissive atmosphere.