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Binge drinking: Drink, drunk, dead

For some women, girl power means widening the crack in the glass ceiling by enrolling in engineering or some other predominantly male domain.

For others, it’s drinking like a man — lots and frequently.

Men still drink more often than women. But women are no shrinking violets when it comes to tossing back the booze, according to Health Canada’s recently released Canadian Addiction Survey.

Almost 40 per cent of women aged 18 to 19 reported downing five or more drinks in a typical session, compared to 46 per cent of men in that age group. And while more than half of women over 15 said they drink lightly and infrequently, 17 per cent of women engage in heavy monthly boozing.

It may have once been considered an incredible social faux pas — never mind a complete turn-off to the opposite sex — for a woman to over-imbibe. Now, at least in certain circles, a woman drinking herself legless is hardly remarked upon.

“I think we’re seeing way more of it because we’re seeing so much of it in popular culture,” says Dawn Johnston, who teaches popular culture at the University of Calgary.

“The entertainment media both celebrates and excuses bad behaviour in a way that makes (young people) think that a) this is expected of them and b) they will bounce back.”

The grim truth is that people die every year from alcohol poisoning. They literally drink themselves to death.

Last month, a 20-year-old Burnaby, B.C. man died after he reportedly consumed 10 beer and guzzled down most of a 26-ounce bottle of whiskey on a bet.

And last week, the RCMP announced they have charged a bartender in Calmar, Alberta, with manslaughter in connection with the death of a 22-year-old female bar patron who died from alcohol poisoning last October.

The bartender and his boss, who owns the bar, have also been charged with criminal negligence causing the death of Tammy Kobylka.

The circumstances surrounding her death will have to wait for the trial. But here’s a general image that’ll take your breath away. A woman who weighs about 154 pounds, or 70 kilos, would have to consume about 20 drinks within a couple of hours to die from alcohol toxicity, notes Martin Davies, of the University of Alberta’s department of pharmacology.

That anyone would think it’s cool or sexy to get that dangerously blotto is frightening. This is party culture with lethal consequences.

“Usually when somebody dies from it, they’ve ingested it so quickly that they haven’t had a chance to throw it up … and that’s when it gets to be really dangerous,” Davies says. “You basically go into a coma and you stop breathing and that’s if you don’t choke on your vomit as well.”

BOOZING IT

Expecting a server to gauge how much someone has had to drink can be an unfair burden because the patron may have been boozing it up before arriving at the bar and people have different tolerance levels, Davies adds.

Thankfully, people rarely die of alcohol poisoning, but the uptick in binge drinking in recent years is troubling. The 2004 Canadian Campus Survey identified about one-third of undergrads as having harmful drinking patterns.

As well, about one-third of the students reported at least one indicator of dependent drinking such as being unable to stop or needing a drink the first thing in the morning.

“All these things are telling us that this is an issue that needs a lot more attention,” says Robert Mann, a senior scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

In the movies, the worst thing that happens after binge drinking is you wake up with a bad hangover and a tattoo, says Johnston, of the University of Calgary.

Tragically, in real life, some hard-drinking partiers never wake up again.
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source: Portage Daily Graphic, http://www.portagedailygraphic.com

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