Increasing Numbers of Women Turning to Binge Drinking

Increasing Numbers of Women Turning to Binge Drinking

By LeAnne Bagnall

Binge drinking has always been associated with males, especially college students in fraternities. Despite this prevailing stereotype, studies have found that an ongoing shift in the gender scale has been moving more towards women when it comes to the overindulgence of alcohol. Is this dangerous activity now being idealized by the female population?

Having drinks at the end of a long work day and unwinding before returning home has been a longstanding tradition for American men. With more women entering the work force, this romanticized pastime has become yet another measurement of gender capacity that women have entered themselves into. Equality for women has become a pillar of civil rights, yet some traditions—such as binge drinking—shouldn’t be matched for a variety of reasons.

Binge drinking for men is considered to be having five to six drinks or more in one sitting, whereas the number goes down to four drinks for women. While binge drinking among all male age groups has generally remained the same or even decreased over the last few decades, female binge drinking has increased across the board, with a 30 percent increase among the most vulnerable age group: college-age women. Because women are physically smaller than men, have a higher percentage of body fat (which cannot dilute alcohol), and have less metabolizing capabilities which work to flush out alcohol from the system, women feel the effects of binge drinking faster and more severely.

Female workers are also now feeling the inclination to drink after work hours. Research shows that women in the positions of the traditional “masculine” professions tend to have higher rates of alcohol use. However, female alcohol abusers as a group have statistically been found to drink the most while home alone. Some stay-at-home moms drink throughout the day, while still managing to perform tasks and tend to their children.

Theories also point to the fact that women are now more able to express themselves publicly, so instances of alcohol use and abuse may be becoming more “mainstream.” With recent headlines pertaining to the tragic consequences of female drinkers (such as when Diane Schuler of New York killed eight people, including herself and her two-year-old daughter, in a drunk-driving crash), this growing cultural practice among women is now receiving media attention and scrutiny.

Why has this trend in female alcohol abusers ascended so drastically over the last few decades? Alcohol consumption has become a more sentimentalized and acceptable social norm in which its dangerous side effects are now glossed over as a necessity for enjoyment and are generally tolerated among society. Yet the facts cannot be denied. Although men statistically begin drinking at an earlier age than women, the effects of drinking take a harder toll on women.

Research has shown that alcohol addiction progresses at a faster rate in women than in men. Women drinkers tend to be heavier drinkers over time, and also develop more health problems and diseases that last throughout adulthood. A woman’s drinking habits have a propensity to correlate with that of their spouse or significant other, despite the physical disproportions. Women who are unemployed abuse alcohol more often than employed females, and women who are divorced, separated, have never been married, or are unmarried and living with a significant other have higher instances of alcohol abuse than married women. Married women, in fact, consume the lowest amount of alcohol among American females. Alcohol use and abuse is most common among women in their early 20s and 30s and this surge in female drinkers has been increasing in all age groups with the exception of women over the age of 65 (who make up less than 10 percent of problem female drinkers).

The number of arrests for driving under the influence has dramatically risen in the female driver population over the last 10 years, escalating to a 29 percent increase. Although men are still arrested for drunk driving much more often than women—a 4 to 1 ratio—the number of male arrests for DUI has actually decreased over the last 10 years, perhaps being supplemented by the female population. Women, it seems, are being treated more equally in the eyes of the law when it comes to protecting the public, thanks to the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which advocates a no-tolerance policy when it comes to punishing such crimes.

Resources, intervention, and prevention methods were not always available to women before, possibly because alcoholism has traditionally been considered to be a masculine disease. Thanks to an increasing awareness of health concerns pertaining to addiction, more rehabilitation programs and centers that treat both men and women have been established throughout the country in highly accessible regions. The gender ratio of patients entering addiction recovery programs was once a 3 to 1 ratio of men over women. Nowadays, the treatment-seeking population seems to have evened out among the genders.

Binge drinking, alcoholism, and their consequences can affect anyone, regardless of gender, and are serious problems with fatal risks. Now that the gender gap is apparently closing in regard to alcohol abuse, the treatment of substance abuse should be considered and treated equally among all gender and age groups.

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