What's Driving 14 Million American Women to Binge Drink?


Binge drinking often conjures up visions of frat boys chugging beer as a ritualistic male bonding activity. Few would take a second look at a group of women at an upscale Italian restaurant ordering another bottle of wine — yet this also falls under the same category of substance abuse. Furthermore, binge drinking is far more prevalent among those with a higher education. College is a veritable breeding ground for binge drinking, and it’s the women — nearly 55% — who represent the majority of those affected, according to New York Magazine

As the gender gap continues to close, so does the drinking gap. Women’s consumption has increased, but their genetic makeup has remained unchanged. Simply put, men hold their liquor better purely because they have more water, less fat, and are able to metabolize and dilute alcohol more efficiently. Socially, drinking has become far more acceptable amongst working women primarily as a way to prove themselves among their male cohorts. Drinking with the boys has become a staple of corporate culture, especially the banking industry where part of the job description is often entertaining clients.

For example, unfortunately for Peggy, if she were to drink as much as Don at a client outing, she’d be twice as drunk and probably feel it twice as hard the next day at work. Furthermore, if she entertains clients on average three nights a week and has more than three on each occurrence, she’s technically binge drinking and is at risk for breast cancer, arthritis and chronic illness, not to mention the dreaded pear shaped effect that comes from bloating of the mid-section. Meanwhile Don continues to land deals while maintaining his boyish physique.

Alcoholism doesn’t just fall along gender lines. For both men and women, moderation seems to be the key to a healthy balance, though the formula is different for each. For women, one drink a day is considered moderate while men can have two. There have been several studies, including one in the New York Times showing that moderate alcohol drinking can in fact reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers. One such study suggested that alcohol can even speed up your metabolism, and lower the rate of obesity. One study suggests, “Women who regularly consume moderate amounts of alcohol are less likely to gain weight than nondrinkers and are at lower risk for obesity.” Although a new app called “Drop a glass size” that encourages less drinking by showing the effects on a woman’s appearance, counters that notion. Further studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption can result in decreased risk of chronic disease in old age. However, for every study that suggests one glass is enough to ward off chronic disease and illness there’s another saying it’s hurtling you toward an early grave.

Drinking is the most socially acceptable form of substance abuse, and is far more habit-forming and addictive than marijuana and many prescription pills. It’s used for everything from an ice breaker on first dates to business deals and functions as a social lubricant to increase our feelings of acceptance and comfort. But there’s a blurred line between clear-headedness and blacking out reality.

Date rape, for one, is a blatant downside of the great equalizer which isn’t really an equalizer at all. In a now infamous interview between two editors of the leading feminist blog, Jezebel, called “Thinking and Drinking” the two women appear wasted on camera. One woman says that she once was, in fact, raped but didn’t report it because it was an inconvenience and might be a buzz kill preventing further partying. While the other editrix-in-chief, casually admitted to sleeping with many men but unfortunately citing she had never had the power to attract date rapists. The interview devolves from there as the host of the show plays along with a non-chalant attitude towards the feminist approach to the consequences of drinking.

This attitude of indifference or being the champion of one’s own choices to binge drink, to knowingly use alcohol as an excuse to sleep around has become an acceptable form of third wave feminism. However, the author who chronicled these supposed “feminists” insightfully notes, “A woman exerting her power by making herself incapacitated does not read as a disjunction. Control — and the decision of when and how to lose it — is the point.”

If it’s as simple a solution as moderation, everyone would do it. But when women are repeatedly told it’s now socially acceptable and we are just as equally up to the task to polish off several rounds of drinks as men, they’re swallowing a lie.