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New Study Shows Young Women Are Drinking Just as Much as Men. Yikes!

Equal rights and a women’s right to choose have been in the news a lot lately, and this woman, of course, is an avid supporter of both plights. But there’s one playing field I’m less than thrilled to see leveling out: women making the choice to get wasted is officially on the rise.

Recent findings have revealed that millennial women (born between 1991 and 2000) are “drinking” as much as their male counterparts. The study found that after nearly a century of men drinking us under the table, alcohol consumption is now an equal opportunity chance for overindulgence.

Let’s Not Celebrate Just Yet

Interestingly enough, the study itself was designed to juxtapose the amount women are drinking at this age with the amount of women giving birth at the same age, compared to those rates in previous years.

On first blush, many ladies out there may feel like this is something worth celebrating – young women are making empowered choices to further their social lives and careers instead of immediately starting a family (which, by the way, there is nothing wrong with…again, it’s all about choices). While more women have the opportunity to further their education, job opportunities and create a rewarding social life, after-work happy hours, weekend activities and cocktail parties all lend themselves to imbibing.

“Keeping up with the boys” when it comes to booze is exciting for young women. It just is. I’ll speak from experience: Ever since I took my first drink at age 14, the ability to take shot after shot with the boys – to swig vodka from the bottle and “chase it” with the drag of a menthol cigarette – was like a badge of honor. My first, and second, experience going shot-for-shot with young guys much larger than I was at age 17, and again at 20. It all ended in disaster, but could have ended in much bigger catastrophes. I could have easily been raped, or severely hurt – I could have even gotten myself killed. The snapshots of those flashbacks are still crisp in my mind – through the fog of the memory of those nights in their entirety.

Even after being sober for five years, I know it would be untrue to say that, as women, we aren’t born with the slightest inclination to constantly seek validation from the outside world and its inhabitants, whatever that may be, despite our best efforts not to do so.

DeAnn MacCloskey, MS, LMHC, of Orlando, Florida says that many of the young women she works with who have been drinking heavily since high school and college have this exact sense of pride when it comes to the amount of alcohol they can “handle.” But the problem is, they’re not handling it at all.

“I’ve had clients share stories of binge drinking that had led to blacking out multiple times a week. Even though they are consuming the same amount, or more, than their male friends,” she said. “The outcome may be more severe….but the chance of their male friends getting assaulted or taken advantage of in that situation is much less common than for a female.”

The Societal Pressure Cooker

We also know from countless studies that alcohol affects women’s minds and bodies differently, and at a much more rapid pace after consumption. If women are “binge drinking” by definition, they’re consuming 4 drinks in one sitting, or more than 8 drinks a week, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

But society doesn’t exactly set millennial women up to notice this is a problem beyond high school or college. In fact, sometimes it’s the work environment itself that lends itself to drinking more. Leora Fulvio, MFT, who is based in the Bay Area over on the west coast, says that many of her young female clients working in the male-dominated tech industry feel a lot of pressure to drink almost as part of their work duties.

“People drink not only at happy hours, but here in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, there are built-in drinking opportunities in the work day, such as company sponsored wine tastings, martini lunches and in one case, even a beer pong competition,” she said. “Women feel the pressure to keep up so that they can be “respected” in the workplace and not looked down upon as weak.”

She goes on to add that women are afraid of losing opportunities they might otherwise miss if they are not out drinking with the team.

“I’ve even had clients tell me that when they attempt not to drink, they are chastised or chided by their colleagues.”

We also live in a world of on-demand transportation that reduces the risk of driving drunk or getting into a car with a stranger or entering into a dangerous situation, which could raise a red flag that there’s a problem sooner.

Lynn  R. Zakeri, LCSW, who is based in Illinois, said that services like Uber help get women home safely, but there are larger societal factors at play than the convenience of a car ride – the glorification of it all on social media also contributes to the pressure.

“The whole Snapchat/Instagram ‘story’ makes you appear more ‘fun’ if you are seen, for example, taking shots in several environments all night,” she said. “The term ‘blacking out’ has lost its fear factor. Now it is just ‘black out Thursday’ or whatever your group calls it. It is not something to avoid, it is something you and your girls experience together.”

Those of us in recovery have, many a time, used the “so drunk that I don’t remember” excuse as a way to justify or fuel behavior that would otherwise be inexcusable or embarrassing. Some of Zakeri‘s clients erase everything on their phone when they get home so they don’t have to remember the night and anything they might regret.

Health Psychologist Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D. says that too much alcohol disrupts REM sleep (the deep, restorative part) and leads to daytime drowsiness and under-performance at work.

“More frightening longer-term side effects include an increased risk of breast cancer and a three times greater risk of hormonal disruptions resulting in fertility problems,” she said. “Increasing numbers of women over-consuming alcohol mean increasing numbers of alcoholics, with all the concomitant problems.”

Setting Benchmarks

So as this new generation of women toast being all caught up – and who knows what those a few years behind us will be doing – it’s important to try and set some sort of benchmarks for the evening, if you do plan to have an evening.

Firstly, suggests Zakeri, decide before you go out how many is “too many.” 

“Ask yourself, ‘Will I be anxious tomorrow if I continue to behave this way?’ Sometimes this question can be a big deterrent to more drinks. Also, look at past nights where you were not happy with your behavior as lessons learned, not ‘nights to forget.’”

MacCloskey suggests setting similar goals, taking a week or two off from drinking entirely or trying to control your intake. If you still find yourself struggling, if the thought consumes you, if you can’t stick to those goals, it may be a good time to take a quiz like this one, to determine exactly what’s “normal” and what’s not, and where you fall. After that, support is all around you, whether you choose to attend 12-step meetings, rehab, or another program of recovery.

Because no matter what society, or Snapchat, or your male coworkers down in Silicon Valley tell you, your body processes alcohol differently than a man’s, and there’s more at stake when you lose control.

To be sure, there is support out there – and much healthier ways to have fun.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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