Gender and Binge Drinking’s Effects
See Jane and John. Jane and John are both college students. Jane and John decide to attend a party with their friends. On this particular night, Jane drinks 4 drinks in the first hour and continues to consume alcohol. John drinks 5 or more in that same hour and continues to drink. After 3 hours at this party, Jane and John are both very drunk. Jane believes the alcohol makes her more comfortable with the atmosphere of the party and therefore more socially accepted. The girls at the party seem to take more of a liking to Jane as the night wears on. The guys seem more sexually interested in her, too. John is hanging out with all the rowdy guys at the party doing multiple shots and chugging several beers for show. He behaves this way because he believes drinking is what men do. The alcohol begins to take its various tolls and have its numerous effects on Jane and John.
John remembers nothing of the night’s activities, but wakes up in his own bed believing he had a good time. John was the unsuspecting victim of a “blackout.” John may continue drinking because of the enjoyment he had experienced when he was consuming alcohol, creating mental conditioning that associates alcohol with fun. What are the problems John may encounter? John could be your fraternity brother or that guy you always talk to in your history class.
Jane attended the party with preconceived ideas of how alcohol will make people interact. Jane possibly has become more attracted to alcohol because of the social connection and benefit it brings to her. She too came home associating alcohol with a good time, making friends, and attracting men. But what will happen in regards to long-term effects on her body? How would you know if Jane was the girl down the hall from you?
However, the questions must be asked: Who suffered the greatest neuropsychological, physical, or emotional effects of their experience? Is there a possibility that a pattern of drinking may have been instilled in either or both of the students? What are the most likely physiological reasons either or both of them will drink again?
The scenario and questions above are just a simple story but realistic example of a drastic encounter by two college students with too much alcohol. Both of the students unknowingly took part in “binge drinking”. “For men, binge drinking is defined as having 5 or more drinks in a row and for women as four or more drinks in a row.” (Higher Education Center) Shocking? Do the numbers seem too low to be considered dangerous? In a recent survey I conducted, 20 freshmen college students were asked how many drinks they normally consumed at one sitting. The average total came to 7.7 drinks at one sitting or per hour! That is almost double the amount for women and one a half times the amount for men. Take a moment to consider how much you drink at one time, if you drink.
College students are more likely to consume much more alcohol than they should at one sitting more than three times a week. Most of them, and maybe even you, fail to realize the consequences of his or her actions. It is not to be said that everyone who drinks will become addicted. However, the fact that most college students drink to have a good time, alleviate stress, or meet new people, is undeniable. What tolls does the alcohol take on the human body? Do men and women respond differently to the effects physically, mentally, or psychologically? Focusing mainly on women, whether or not gender is influential in suffering the worse physical, mental, or psychological effects of binging, is the debate that will be discussed. Some psychologists and researchers would say gender is not an issue and proceed to explain that the human brain generally reacts or suffers the same whether male or female. Some other sources focus mainly on promoting the argument that it is mostly females who suffer the worst effects of binge-induced alcoholism due to stress, social acceptance, or role loss in society. Finally, others may conclude that women suffer the worst consequences of drinking and require special intervention programs to break habitual drinking patterns. Who is affected the worst by binge drinking? Men or women? The overall spotlight is put on women, as it will be here. First, we will look and listen to the neuropsychological approach to binge drinking and its focus on the basic physical effects, motivational factors, and physical dependence.
Alcohol affects every aspect of our physical make-up. Yet more specifically and dangerously, whether male or female, our very brains and their most basic functions are inhibited greatly. Fromme and D’Amico, thoroughly and accurately describe the general effects of alcohol on the brain’s most simple functions as “inhibitory” (Psychological 440). Some of the possible resulting effects are “mild euphoria, anxiety reduction, sedation, and impaired coordination and cognitive abilities” (Psychological 440). To most psychologists, there is no difference in the effects of alcohol on the human brain in regards to sex. However, the overall effect is on the psychological side of every human. Some physical parts of the brain that are affected by the drinking of alcohol directly affect the psyche, which in a perpetual cycle, will drive the individual to drink again.
W. Miles Cox explains this cycle in his book Why People Drink when he discusses a particular idea that the drinking of alcohol, in its supposed reduction of anxiety when it is consumed, will in turn, become the essential means of alleviating tension. Cox examined an experiment by Wilson and Abrams (1977) in which the “interaction between alcohol and social anxiety” was measured by “heart rate and self measures of anxiety” (183). It was concluded that if an individual had previous “relaxing” experience with alcohol, the individual came to psychologically believe that alcohol was a reducer of tension. Cox believes that “the question remains as to whether or not tension reduction plays a significant role in continued alcohol consumption” (183). The psychological approach boils down to alcohol’s chronic mental and physiological effects on the brain and its influences in the repeated use regardless of gender. Although, some researchers believe that women are in fact more susceptible to and prone to the negative effects of binge drinking in both their bodies and their minds as we will next see in the susceptibility approach.
The female proneness and susceptibility approach promotes that women are more prone to the effects of alcohol than their male counterparts through both physical evidence and psychological evidence. Women and Alcohol is a book written by Moira Plant that discusses the overall use of alcohol by women, motivational drinking factors of women, and the physical and psychological effects on the average woman. Plant believes that just physically speaking women are more likely to develop long-term problems such as gastro-intestinal, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and breast cancer (69-89) Psychologically, Plant states that women drink more for reasons of social acceptance and self-image. She also believes that “traditionally for women”, drinking problems are “more often associated with relationship difficulties than for their male counterparts” ( Plant 107). Role loss in the home or at work can also be an association to problem drinking. When a woman loses her job or a grown child leaves the home (better known as “empty nest syndrome”) are both times that have been known to induce habitual drinking. A woman’s importance in those areas of her life “vanishes” and she turns to something to help her anxiety.
Another researcher, Jan Waterson discusses “positive and negative drinking” in her book Women and Alcohol in Social Context. She points out that women may possibly have a higher association with drinking, but that there are two sides to their “problems.” Positive drinkers are women who are in control of their desires and understand “their own appropriate boundaries.” Negative drinkers, however, are “unable to control their drinking” and use alcohol as a means of “managing stresses” ( Waterson 25) Whether positive or negative in their drinking, Waterson acknowledges that drinking in any form will negatively effect female individuals both in long and short term respects physically as well as psychologically. These effects may require the treatment offered and discussed in the clinical approach.
Those who believe women do have a greater problem and want to help intervene by understanding the foundations of the problem(s) associated with drinking, take the clinical approach. It is always possible that by the time students reach the college level, they have an instilled drinking pattern and or problem from their experiences in high school. Intervention and prevention are the two words one might use to describe the overall theme and or goal of Counseling Addicted Women, a book by Monique Cohen. Cohen points out that women’s general suffering effects from alcohol is socially related. Cohen supports research that shows a “close link between alcohol…and interpersonal relationships for adolescent girls and young women”. This link is believed to be induced by a need for “affiliation and connection” (Cohen 150). Changing behavior and changing friendships may both influence a college-age woman in her desires or motivations to drink. The effects of her social connection to alcohol may be rape, social exclusion, and or unexpected pregnancies, as some examples. Aside from the social aspects, Cohen talks about the physical problems a woman experiences more than males in that they get drunk faster and more quickly addicted in their brains, both physically and psychologically.
Paula Roth is another author who takes the clinical approach to women and drinking. In her book Alcohol and Drugs are Women’s Issues, Roth firmly states that “women who become dependent on alcohol and drugs have a high prevalence of pancreatitis, cirrhosis, ulcers, cardiovascular problems, and gynecological and obstetrical disorders” (65) Roth also explains that psychological problems associated with drinking can include and lead to “feelings of guilt, shame, isolation and loneliness” (66) Roth and Cohen both believe that by showing women their particular ability over men, to be severely affected by alcohol, the education will stop the drinking. This approach appeals mostly to the psychological aspect of the human mind.
Earlier the question was posed to the reader, “Who suffers the worst negative effects of drinking, men or women?” and the reader in turn has been offered a few of the perspectives that attempt to answer the question, each possessing their own purposes. Some researchers believe that gender has absolutely nothing to do with the physical affects of alcohol only on the human brain. Other authors blatantly believed that women suffer and are more susceptible to suffer the worst effects of drinking whether they be physical, mental, psychological, or physiological. Finally, yet others believe women do have the more severe problems, and that by educating the women about their physical disease they can help to “nip in the bud” those effects psychologically by getting at the root of the problems. The effects on males were not heavily presented or discussed due to the research and debate that was spotlighted on women. It is also interesting to note that the approaches supporting the female suffering came from female authors.
Cohen, Monique Counseling Addicted Women (2000).
D’Amico, Elizabeth and Kim Fromme “Neurobiological Bases of Alcohol’s Psychological Effects” Psychological Theories of Drinking and Alcoholism (1999): 422-45.
Higher Education Center. Harvard School of Public Health. October 11, 2001
November 21, 2002 <http://www.edc.org/hec/pubs/binge.htm/>
Plant, Moira Women and Alcohol (1997).
Roth, Paula Cycle of Classes for Participants, Alcohol and Drugs are Women’s Issues
Waterson, Jan. Women and Alcohol in Social Context (2000).