College Women Out-Drinking College Men; Why?


In college, I did a fair amount of drinking, as did the majority of my friends. While I myself never grew a particularly high alcohol tolerance, I did notice that the people I knew who had the highest capacity for alcohol in relation to their height and weight always seemed to be females — something that I’ve found to be less true since I graduated. Apparently, this is a running theme: college women are consuming more booze than recommended, and they’re doing so more frequently than the males.

In a study for the October 2013 issue of “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,” incoming college students (both male and female) were given surveys from a team led by medical researcher Bettina Hoeppner regarding their drinking habits. The questionnaires were administered every two weeks regarding the student’s past seven days. The results showed that women and men differed:

In 1990, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) issued guidelines that define low-risk drinking on a daily and weekly level. For men, 5 drinks a day and 14 drinks a week are considered low-risk. For women, 4 drinks a day and 7 drinks a week are considered low-risk.

Researchers found that, among students who drank alcohol, 85.4 percent exceeded an NIAAA drinking guideline at least once during their first week of college. More men than women exceeded the daily limit, and more women than men exceeded the weekly limit.

I’ve thought about why women might be more prone to over-drinking than men, but it’s hard to put a finger on (and, obviously, I’m no scientist so anything I speculate is just that — speculation). Most of the men and women I know drink both beer and hard liquor, but in college, it’s often all about what winds up being cheaper (and faster). You can get a handle of “meh” vodka for, oh, $18, while spending the same amount on beer will likely not get as many people intoxicated nearly as fast. But then, this anecdote-based theory goes for both men and women — so why are women drinking excessively more?

Could it be because women are recommended lower quantities of alcohol, but are still attending the same parties and are served the same amount of booze? Or that women feel more pressure to binge drink? While I never felt pressure to “prove” myself to anybody regarding my drinking, I’m sure that plenty of college students — male and female — certainly have, and that can lead to downing a whole lot of shots, which is definitely not safe.

Personally, I think that experimenting with alcohol and whatnot isn’t dangerous in itself, but there needs to be more discussions about drinking prior to college. As in, high school students need to be educated on what constitutes “binge drinking,” how to tell the signs of somebody being dangerously intoxicated, how to limit yourself better, what to avoid…it should all be done when people are younger, before they’re exposed to ice luges and the concept of strapping 40s to your hands (do the kids still do that?).

I realize that this isn’t the most popular opinion, as these talks would be administered prior to the legal drinking age, but the fact of the matter is that kids will exposed to alcohol before they’re 21; there isn’t some magical forcefield that keeps the booze demons away. A class that realistically talks about the choices students will face could potentially save lives and, at the very least, be far more relevant than that D.A.R.E. thing we all took in the fifth grade.

Photo: Shutterstock

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    • Eileen

      Isn’t that what Alcohol EDU is for? You and I are about the same age, and every college student I knew had to take Alcohol EDU during orientation, with serious consequences for failing (you couldn’t register for classes, or you couldn’t get housing…I forget now, but it was a big deal when I was a freshman). There’s a lot of really good information in it, but unfortunately that didn’t stop everyone from binge drinking right away.

      I was a lightweight as a freshman, and got teased for it. It wasn’t cool to act like an idiot and need someone to walk you home after only three beers.* So I worked on my tolerance. And the only way to work on your tolerance is to binge drink a lot. I suspect many girls have similar issues – to be cool, you have to be able to hold your liquor past one or two drinks, but women can’t do that as naturally as men, so they practice. I heard girls talk about “working on their tolerance” all the time, but I never met a man who did it – and they still could comfortably drink way more than I could.

      Honestly, as much as I loved college, I’m kind of glad it’s no longer expected to drink heavily at least once a week. I am now back to being tipsy on two, silly on three, and wasted on four drinks, and I am totally cool with that. But in college, I completely expected to be able to do a power hour and then act like a functional human being as I kept drinking, and it took a LOT of practice drinking for me to be capable of that.

      *I should note that while we all at least claimed to respect people’s decisions not to drink, and they were welcome at parties, many of our parties revolved around drinking to the point that you completely missed the point if you didn’t drink, e.g. golf parties

      • Samantha Escobar

        Alcohol EDU is for that, but those e-classes take like 5 seconds to complete and nobody really remembers anything from it anyway because it was (A) so quick (B) on the Internet and (C) dull. What I meant was that kids should be taught about alcohol at a significantly younger age; not the second before/when they step into college and are distracted by the new place, new rules, new living situations, new people, new dynamic, etcetera. It’d be like trying to concentrate on an online math class when you’re at Coachella — it’s just not going to absorb.

        I think your logic makes a lot of sense regarding binge drinking. It is definitely really frustrating to be at college and not have any alcohol tolerance. Even though I look back on college and sometimes think, “Oh, I didn’t drink tooooo, too much,” in retrospect, I went to entirely too many parties every week and binge drank a lot. I never forced myself to build my tolerance, though, nor did anyone else I know; I think it just happened naturally because my friend group was made up of primarily “work hard, play hard” people who got wasted on a very regular basis.

        Also, golf parties sound awful unless you’re drunk. But if you’re drunk, holy crap, that sounds amazing.