Student Well-Being

One in Five High School Girls Report Binge Drinking

By Ross Brenneman — January 08, 2013 2 min read
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Binge drinking is a problem for roughly one of every five women between 11th grade and age 35, according to the results of a survey published today by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC opened the results of their 2011 study with some sobering statistics: Excessive alcohol use accounted for an estimated average of 23,000 deaths annually between 2001-2005, and binge drinking counted for half of those deaths. As for the survey results, while women ages 18-24 demonstrated the most likelihood to binge among females (24.2 percent), they were closely followed by women ages 25-34 and high schoolers, though the high school average was brought down by relatively lower use among freshmen and sophomores. Roughly two of every five high schoolers reported some alcohol consumption within the month leading up to the CDC survey.

Here are the definitions the CDC uses when classifying alcohol consumption:

Heavy drinking: Consumption of more than one drink per day for women, and more than two drinks per day for men. Yes, per day. (So go easy on Sunday communion.)

Binge drinking: Consumption of four or more drinks per occasion for women, or five or more per men. The difference in the number of drinks, by the way, isn’t because women are typically smaller than men. Women also process alcohol differently than men, so that even controlling for body mass, women have lower alcohol tolerance. (Although, men, watch out who you challenge to a drinking contest.)

Excessive alcohol consumption:: Binge drinking, heavy drinking, drinking while pregnant, or drinking under age.

The most likely to binge drink of all women? White, college-educated young adults with household income over $75,000. Binge drinking increased with each step up in household income level, and decreased steadily by age; only 2.5 percent of senior citizens reported binge drinking.

The CDC survey isn’t ignoring men, so much as intoning that binge drinking by men—who averaged almost three times as many alcohol-related deaths from 2001-2005—shouldn’t overshadow problems for women. In addition to the increased physiological danger drinking presents to women, underage girls are also more overexposed to alcohol marketing relative to boys, increasing the chance for initiating alcohol consumption early. And, of course, there are the pregnancy risks.

The CDC data on high schoolers came from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a national survey that gleaned 15,503 completed questionnaires from 158 schools across all 50 states and D.C. Of those, 7,536 students were girls.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.