Women Are Binge Drinking More -- But Not More Than the Boys

Cristen Conger

Women -- and men -- are drinking more than they used to. (© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation)

A few weeks ago on Stuff Mom Never Told You, Molly and I asked whether women are drinking more. This year's health report card from the National Women's Law Center shows that, yes, indeed, we are. The report card gave American women a failing grade for binge drinking, which is defined as pounding five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting. Nationwide, 10.6 percent of women fessed up to binge drinking at least once a month, compared to 7.3 percent in 2007.

The long-term health risks involved with heavy drinking aren't pretty. More cocktails can mean higher chances of liver disease, cancer, stroke and heart disease down the road. And the effects of alcohol are often more acute for women because our bodies process the sauce differently than men. Our fattier bodies soak more up, while our lower water content keeps it more concentrated. Moreover, the female body also contains a lower amount of an alcohol-metabolizing enzyme, slowing the exit out of our systems. In other words, it's really not a good idea to drink the boys under the table.

While these health risks should be taken seriously, a frustrating disparity often arises in discussions about the rising rate of women's alcohol intake. For starters, although women are guzzling more beer and bourbon than they used to, the rate of male binge drinking is nearly double. According to the CDC, 20.7 percent of men binge. Yet, the majority of societal hand-wringing over drinking focuses on women. Even more annoying, women's increased drinking has somehow become lumped in with feminism. A 2008 New York magazine article "Gender Bender" put it bluntly: "for better or worse, drinking has become entwined with progressive feminism." Not surprisingly, plenty of "progressive feminists" weren't too pleased with that diagnosis.

Considering that women have risen through the workplace ranks alongside men, it makes sense that drinking has somewhat followed in suit. Sure, there's a feminist element to that, but that doesn't mean we're seeking equality by the bottle. As Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory put it so well, "This is binge culture, and it isn't strictly male or female anymore. We're all full of bluster and far too much booze."

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