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Troubling binge-drinking trend turns up in study

Binge drinking typically conjures images of college frat boys at wild house parties smashing Lone Star cans on their foreheads.

Texas State student Sarah Brown, however, knows a different reality. She’s seen firsthand that men haven’t cornered the market on binge drinking.

“There’s a lot of guys who want to drink as much as they possibly can, and there’s a lot of girls who want to keep up with those guys,” said the 21-year-old. “I’ve seen people pass out on sidewalks, pass out in dorms, pass out anywhere.”

She’s not the only one seeing the troubling trend. A recent decades-long study finds that binge drinking has decreased significantly or stayed stagnant across a variety of demographics except one: women.

The study, conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, examined nationwide data on more than 500,000 subjects gathered by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 1979 and 2006.

According to the study, the most recent statistics showed that more than half of 21- to 23-year-old males reported that they binge drink, a level that has remained relatively unchanged since 1979. However, in 2006 almost 39 percent of women ages 21 to 23 reported that they binge drink. A percentage increase of 30 percent from 1979.

Binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on a given occasion, declined for young men not in college and rose 20 percent among young women not in school.

Richard Grucza, author of the study, said the overall decline in binge drinking can be attributed to raising the legal drinking age, zero tolerance drunk-driving laws and societal changes.

Scott Walters, associate professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health, said the increase in female alcohol consumption is a consequence of the gender gap closing. “One of the most remarkable changes of the last 50 years is that young women have become more like young men,” Walters said. “Alcohol is one example, but they are engaging in a lot of other riskier behaviors such as drug abuse and smoking.”

David Jernigan, executive director of the center on alcohol marketing and youth, said the rise in female binge drinkers can be attributed to recent advertising campaigns for “alcopops,” which are sweet, fizzy, fruit-flavored drinks.

“Starting in 1999, distilled spirits companies transformed their marketing. They brought out alcopops, a wave of products such as Smirnoff Ice or Bacardi Silver — they could be sold and advertised like beer.”

The associate professor at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said in 2001 there were less than 2,000 distilled spirit advertisements on television compared to 62,000 in 2007. He said girls were much more likely to be exposed to alcohol advertising than boys.

“Boys see a lot of alcohol advertising cause so much of it is on sports programs,” Jernigan said. “We looked at magazines and the number of alcohol advertisements was stunning. Underage women saw 68 percent more beer ads and 95 percent more alcopops advertising in 2002 compared to what women of legal age were seeing.”

Binge drinking carries serious and often deadly physical ramifications for both genders. But women face some unique disadvantages when it comes to heavy drinking.

Walters said one factor is women on average weigh less than men, so they are going to get drunk more quickly.

“The second factor is this idea of body composition,” Walters said. “Alcohol is a water soluble molecule so it goes anywhere in the body that there’s water. Women have less water in their body so there’s less place for the alcohol to go. It tends to be clustered around the brain and vital organs.”

Britney Box, a 22-year-old University of Houston graduate, said the majority of binge drinking goes on at house parties.

“Girls drink more popularized drinks,” she said. “A guy is going to drink a cranberry vodka or something like that. A girl is going to drink a Sex on the Beach, a Cosmo or an apple martini.”

Box said when men offer girls drinks, it is usually a shot. She speculates men buy hard liquor to help girls have a good time, loosen up, or just get them drunk quicker.

Brown, the Texas State student, said, “When you start out as a freshman and you are going out to house parties, apartment parties, frat parties — I don’t want to say it was peer pressure, but the people who are having such a great time are the ones drinking,” she said.

The Spring native said underage girls drink more than their legal counterparts and the effects can be shocking.

“I have seen someone dressed like Jesus standing on the side of the highway waving at cars and people naked riding bikes down the street,” she said.

Brown, a graduate of Klein High School, said alcohol is more accessible for females.

“I normally don’t spend money when I go to the bars. If I want somebody to buy me a drink, it usually happens. Me and my roommates go to the bar and sit and hang out and next thing you know there’s shots in front of us.”

source: Houston Chronicle

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