College Women and Excessive Drinking

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According to a study to be published this fall in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, female college students are more likely to exceed alcohol consumption guidelines than their male peers.

At first, this may seem surprising because we typically think of young men as the heavier drinkers. But the situation is explained by the differences in average body mass, making “excessive” a different number for men and for women.

'Safe' Levels of Alcohol Consumption

The guidelines for a “safe” level of consumption for men are no more than four drinks a day (14 per week) and for women, three drinks a day (seven per week). These guidelines come from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and are referred to as low-risk drinking.

While it may seem unfair to segregate drinking by gender, it makes perfect sense from a medical point of view. Studies show that men and women process alcohol differently and have different risks associated with consumption. Biology doesn’t care if it’s politically correct or not; alcohol is a toxin, and it happens to be more dangerous to women than to men.

Alcohol Affects Men and Women Differently

Melissa A. Lewis, associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, told Medical News Today:

It is always important to take gender into account when studying health or risk behaviors. Even if you hold weight constant, there are differences in terms of how alcohol affects men and women. For example, men have more of an enzyme in the stomach – a gastric alcohol dehydrogenase – that lowers the amount of alcohol that makes it into the bloodstream. Also, women have less blood going through the bloodstream than a man at the same weight, so alcohol gets more concentrated in the bloodstream."

The practical side of this may be to make women aware of the challenges they face when confronted with peer pressure and drinking. Pressure to match a male counterpart “drink for drink” isn’t warranted by biology – no more than a contest to lift heavy items would be.

The challenge to the medical community is to educate females (and especially college-aged females) of the inborn differences and what the safe levels of alcohol consumption really are. The “no more than three drinks a day” rule applies equally with the “no more than seven a week,” meaning that a binge on the weekend takes females over the top with detrimental effects.

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