Binge drinking is usually associated with men, but a new study says that one in eight women engages in this type of alcohol abuse. And–surprise, surprise–the problem is magnified by the fact that we think men are the binge drinkers; not women.
What is binge drinking?
Part of why it’s under-recognized in women probably has to do with the fact that most of us don’t know what really qualifies as binge drinking: Officially, it’s considered having more than four drinks at a time for women; five or more drinks at a time for men. The statistics about women binge drinkers are in the Centers for Disease Control’s “Vital Signs” report, which counted the number of women who binge drink three times or more per month.
How many women binge drink?
The CDC found that 13% of women binge drink 3 times or more per month; that means roughly 14 million women are hitting the bottle hard. They also found that 20% of high school girls binge drink the same amount; a considerably scarier number, given that drinking isn’t legal until well after kids go to college.
Why do binge drinking women matter?
If four or more drinks doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to you (to be honest: it was much lower than we though), the authors of the CDC report pointed out some kind of scary health trends that come along with heavy drinking. According to their report, it increases the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and more.
And for women of childbearing age, the risks associated with binge drinking are a lot more serious than the effects of sipping a glass of wine at dinner: They say it could lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), fetal alcohol disorders, and an increased risk of ADHD in kids whose mothers binge drink while pregnant. (Keep in mind: a lot of women continue to drink in the early weeks of pregnancy without realizing it; one cocktail may not do much harm, but four or five could be another story.)
And then there are the obvious risks associated with heavy drinking and alcohol abuse: Drinking and driving, drinking-related injuries, and even alcohol poisoning or long-term liver damage.
The takeaway from this study isn’t necessarily that women should all go dry. In fact, many studies have shown that moderate drinkers actually live longer than their peers who abstain. Still; it’s a good idea to figure out what’s really considered a “moderate” or healthy amount of drinking for yourself (if the CDC’s data taught us anything, it’s that what you think is “normal” might be teetering on the edge of binge drinking and alcohol abuse).
According to the CDC, moderate drinking is defined in the US as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men; “one drink” is defined as the following:
- 12-ounces of beer
- 8-ounces of malt liquor
- 5-ounces of wine
- 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey)
Photo: Philo Nordlund