It’s common knowledge that binge drinking carries serious health and lifestyle consequences for all. However, new research shows that women who drink heavily experience higher risk of alcohol-related problems than men. Today, we’ll discuss why women need to be on guard against the dangers of binge drinking.
What is Binge Drinking?
The definition of binge drinking differs for men and women. This is due to physiology – because women generally weigh less than men, they are more strongly affected by alcohol. There is also a critical difference in the amount of water in one’s body; alcohol resides predominantly in body water, which women have less of than men. This means that even if a man and woman weigh the same, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration will be higher.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08%. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men – in about 2 hours.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses the same amounts of alcohol to qualify binge drinking, although it adds further parameters of consuming these drinks “on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past month.”
One standard drink is defined as…
- 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (~5% alcohol)
- 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (~7% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of wine (~12% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits such as gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, etc. (~40% alcohol)
It is important to note that while these are the benchmark amounts for standard drinks, they do not necessarily reflect customary serving sizes at restaurants or bars.
Health Consequences of Heavy Drinking
In general, women will start to have alcohol-related problems sooner and after consuming lesser amounts of alcohol than their male peers. Habitual binge drinking creates a constellation of long-term health problems, including alcoholism, damage to internal organs, and a risk of certain cancers.
Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD, is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by an inability to control alcohol use despite negative occupational, social, or physical consequences. Individuals with an alcohol use disorder spend a great deal of time consuming and recovering from the consumption of alcohol. They may begin drinking socially, eventually requiring larger and larger amounts of liquor, beer, or wine to experience the same effects. Drinking eclipses personal responsibilities, at home or at work, and may begin to negatively impact health. Recovery is possible through professional addiction treatment, and the disorder should be addressed as quickly as possible for optimal results.
Organ damage is unfortunately a common side effect of continued heavy drinking. Women who misuse alcohol regularly are more likely than their male counterparts to develop alcoholic hepatitis, a potentially fatal liver condition. Binge drinking can also lead to permanent liver scarring, called cirrhosis. Long-term heavy drinking is also a primary cause of alcohol-related heart disease, which women are more susceptible to than men, even though they may consume less alcohol in their lifetimes overall. The brain is not exempted from alcohol’s aggressive attack on personal health. In one study, teen girls who binge drink showed less brain activity and worse test performance than boys of the same age. They also had significant reductions in the size of important brain areas connected to memory and decision-making.
Additionally, some research suggests that breast cancer and drinking alcohol are inexorably linked. Women who consume about one drink each day have between 5-9% higher chance of developing this particular cancer – a risk that increases for every additional drink they have per day.
Certain health consequences of binge drinking are completely unique to women. Drinking during pregnancy causes physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues in children, most of which are summarized through the NIAAA’s definition of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can also induce early labor.
Binge Drinking Normalized for Women
If binge drinking is so particularly dangerous for women, many people probably believe that society should be educating the populace on these risks and discouraging excessive alcohol consumption. However, a new trend in popular media has instead encouraged binge drinking among young women and mothers.
Advertisements, television shows, and social media memes alike have taken to showing a new theme: frustrated moms downing oversize glasses of wine to cope with the day-to-day stresses of parenthood. This has inspired a troubling trend in which American women are drinking far larger quantities of alcohol far more often than their mothers or grandmothers did.
This highly-visible movement has infiltrated everything from yoga classes to book clubs – typical havens for moms across the country. Various products feature cutesy phrases like “this might be wine” in looping type on the side of an insulated travel mug and “it’s wine-o’-clock” splashed across a Target t-shirt. With these pressures in mind, it’s more important than ever that women seek treatment at the first sign of an alcohol use disorder.
Help is Just One Phone Call Away
If you or a woman in your life have begun to experience problems with drinking, you’re not alone. The Lakeside-Milam team has assisted over 100,000 individuals with their pursuit of lasting sobriety. Through a proven addiction treatment program, recovery is possible. Call (800) 231-4303 to learn more.