Binge drinking, or not drinking every day but consuming a lot of alcohol in one setting, has long been popular among many weekend drinkers and younger people, including college students and high school-aged children. The reasons are varied, but the main reason is because many people who can’t drink every day due to familial or societal obligations enjoy imbibing on the weekends. Many are thrill-seekers who are drinking as much as they can for the effect of the alcohol, or they are participating in drinking games such as “Beer Pong.” Occasional overindulgence is commonly thought to be generally harmless, but research and tragic outcomes show this is a potentially dangerous misconception.
While very recent reports have shown a correlation between high blood pressure and moderate binge-drinking in early life, the most alarming trend is the speed at which women are adding themselves to the “binge drinking” list, according to MacClean’s.
The fact that people sometimes drink to get drunk is not a novel idea – they do it for fun, they do it to deal with stress, and they do it to socialize with friends. What is a new trend is that binge drinking among women has increased at a rate that is seven times that of men, according to the American Public Health Association. While men still consume more alcohol annually, on the whole, women metabolize it differently — the effects occurring faster and lasting longer due to hormonal and adipose distribution differences — and women are more likely to experience long-term health effects, some of which are fatal. The risk of liver cirrhosis, brain damage, and heart disease caused by alcohol are all greater in women than men with no other risk factors involved, but they may be exponentially higher based on genetics and the presence of chronic diseases.
Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, which is also being made into a film, says the reasons women drink, how they drink, and how alcohol is marketed to them are all far different than that of men.
“A binge is bigger than it used to be. He’s drinking beer while she’s drinking shots. She’s two-thirds his size and probably didn’t eat dinner. Women live with more alcohol [than men], they pre-drink, they have a habit of purging and starting again. A whole generation of young women were taught that to be sophisticated, you drink vodka. They skipped the rest and started with hard liquor.”
This “bro girl” whiskey-loving woman has been made popular in social culture from movies to songs – girls who don’t like flowery cocktails but head straight for hard liquor. This is an image that is being portrayed as popular among men, and it also has roots in women’s weight-consciousness. Women are told that hard liquor straight is less caloric than adding soda, juice, and other “mixers.” Women want the effect of alcohol but not the associated weight gain that is common to beer-drinkers.
These women may not be alcoholics, but if there is a spectrum, they are dangerously close to becoming one, says Joe Nowinski, author of the 2012 book, Almost Alcoholic.
“There’s this middle zone of problem drinking with a mild to moderate problem, and there are a lot of people there. In 2014, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health reported 90 per cent of excessive drinkers don’t meet the definition of alcoholism. In fact, because no general consensus can define it, even the word “alcoholism” was replaced in medical texts with ‘alcohol use disorder.’”
The immediate effects of extreme binge drinking, including coma and even death in both men and women, are rising, but due to slower metabolism, women may not realize they’ve had too much to drink until they are no longer conscious.[Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]