Race for equality? Binge drinking increases among women
From fair representation in government to comparable wages, women have striven for decades to be equal with men. Now, that equality may be becoming more pervasive than intended with increasing alcohol consumption among women.
A recent Harvard School of Public Health study suggested that the number of female drinkers is on the rise, and, more specifically, binge drinking among women is at a record high. At Duke, students and administrators say they have noticed the change.
"I think women are binge drinking more now then 10 to 15 years ago because they feel like it is more socially acceptable," incoming Panhellenic Council president and junior Kerianne Ryan said. "It seems as though girls and guys drink as often, and sometimes as much as one another now."
More than their male counterparts, female students are taken to the Emergency Department for over-consumption of alcohol. Last year 29 women and 28 men were taken, and this year 23 women and 20 men have received hospital care.
Women are also showing a trend in the number of alcohol violations they commit, said Stephen Bryan, assistant dean of student development. The number of males showed a decrease from 142 to 126, while the number of females remained constant at 45.
Many believe women are induced to drink for the same reasons as men, often using alcohol to help them be more outgoing and friendly in their personal interactions. Many female students attribute binge drinking to their desire to integrate themselves into the Duke social scene, which for some centers largely around alcohol.
'On this campus, they want to get as socially lubricated as the men do when they drink. Women have just as great of a determination to have a good time, and for some that is done by drinking excessively,' Bryan said.
Students also feel that social interaction is eased for men and women when drinking is involved.
'Women are drinking more, but it's the same reason that guys have done it for years,' freshman Betsy Kaloyanides said. 'When they go out at Duke, they can go out and stay sober or they can get drunk with their friends. When they get drunk, they think they'll have more fun, like guys do, and it's easier to talk and to meet people.'
Increases could also be due to a greater feeling of security among women drinking in public. Jeff Kulley, an alcohol specialist at Counseling and Psychological Services, said inhibitions against women drinking have decreased.
'All colleges are seeing increases in women binge drinking, even women's colleges. It is becoming less stigmatized,' Kulley said. '[A woman is] no longer seen as loose or promiscuous if she drinks a lot.'
Others point to a certain level of pride involved in being able to drink competitively with men.
'I do think some women feel that part of expressing their equality with men is matching them drink for drink, but it's a strange way to think about pride,' Women's Center director Donna Lisker said.
While women might be drinking more, they may be unaware of the inherent dangers and the different ways alcohol affects men and women.
For a variety of reasons, women typically become drunk more quickly from smaller quantities of alcohol. Comparatively smaller physical statures contribute, as do varying enzyme levels in women's bodies that metabolize alcohol less quickly and efficiently than in men. Also, women have a higher proportion of body fat to lean muscle mass. Fat has less water than muscle, thus providing women with less water to dilute the alcohol, Kulley said.
Not only are women unaware of some of these effects, but they are often unclear about what exactly they are drinking.
'Women are typically more naive than men on alcohol and its effects when it comes to mixed drinks. They drink something fruity and don't taste the alcohol in it,' Bryan said.
This has some administrators concerned that the drinking increase will lead to a corresponding increase in sexual assault.
'There can be a sinister angle to it--men who want to have sex with a woman understand that significant amounts of alcohol can lower her resistance to the idea,' Lisker said.
Kulley noted that heavy drinking is one of the primary factors that leads to acquaintance rape on college campuses.
'Unfortunately, sexual assault happens more now than it did 15 years ago. Women are rightfully expecting equal access to opportunities that men have had, and this includes both positive and negative opportunities,' Kulley said.