LONG GONE are the days when St. Patrick’s Day brought to mind shamrocks, leprechauns, and pots of gold. Originally intended to honor the patron saint of Ireland, the festivities now typically include visions of boisterous party-goers getting blacked-out drunk thanks to the usual suspect libations — green beer and Irish whiskey. Kegs and rivers of green beer and Irish whiskey!
Whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco De Mayo, we love to take holidays celebrating other cultures and turn them into an excuse to drink ourselves into oblivion (with a good old racist twist, to boot). It’s an American pastime. Historically, men were the sex to engage in such overindulgence, consuming the lion’s share of alcoholic products produced globally. Our feminist suffragette foremothers would be proud, though, since it seems that women are now catching up on the binge-drinking front.
By most accounts, binge-drinking consists of four drinks for women and five for men, within two hours. Sound like just a regular Tuesday night to you? You’re not alone. According to the CDC, 15% of women (ages 18-44) engage in excessive drinking. And these habits have increased 36% over the past decade, based on findings put out last year by the American Public Health Association. Celebrating a holiday, not necessarily included.
There’s no shocker in the fact that getting wasted is not great for your health. (Legit question: what is these days? Walking while texting can even put your life in danger.) But for women, heavy drinking is disconcerting not only for the varied health risks (i.e. liver damage, breast cancer, increased heart risk compared to men) but also because of the social implications. One in 20 college women is sexually assaulted, reports the CDC. Their research also suggested that “there is an increase in the risk of rape or sexual assault when both the attacker and victim have used alcohol prior to the attack.” I firmly believe women deserve the right to get wasted in public and act like asses — the same way men do — without the ever-present specter of sexual assault looming over their shoulders, but until we’ve changed the culture surrounding consent enough that a man never even thinks “Hmm, I could tap that right now” when he comes across a woman blacked-out drunk, that’s just not the reality we’re living in. Yet. (Until that happens, do your part to educate people — men and women alike — about affirmative consent and always intervene, in any way you can, if you see someone being taken advantage of sexually).
STDs and unexpected pregnancy are two other things you gotta start worrying about when binge-drinking becomes your pastime of choice on a Saturday night. It’s been proven that people who engage in binge-drinking are also more likely to engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners. This probably doesn’t come as much of surprise. When you’re drunk, you sometimes make bad decisions, some minor — like eating an entire pizza — and some with more dire consequences, like trusting your beer goggles. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all done that walk down to Planned Parenthood for a dose of Plan B and an STD panel, thinking all the while: “I didn’t even have that much.” Yet, even if a woman is drinking the same amount at the same pace as a male friend is, her body will not digest the alcohol at the same rate. It’s a scientific fact — one that’s extremely easy to forget when we’re trying to keep up with social pressure to drink like fish but act like we’re completely sober.
So why are women binge-drinking more these days, when we know it’s not the best idea?
One factor may be the rise of single women. Compared to older generations, millennials are staying single longer. Staying independent longer creates stress and leads to working harder (yay! for your career path), which in turn leads to playing even harder (boo for your liver). Plus, higher-income households and those having completed more education have a tendency to kick back the bottle more frequently. Women with professional careers also might feel pressure to drink more than they would like, since work culture — once dominated exclusively by men — has evolved to incorporate a fast-paced drinking culture.
Another element to consider is the rise of social media accounts with massive followings like DaddyIssues and Betches. These online personas reach millions of young women, and glorify binge-drinking in an unprecedented way. Behold:
Sure, these are both pretty hilarious, but they’re also potentially dangerous messages to be sending to young women who are already navigating through murky waters.
However, the societal pressures for women to be on par with men are stronger than ever. And most women would argue they wouldn’t want this any other way. Equal pay between men and women in the workforce. Worth fighting for. Access to health care and reproductive services. No-brainer causes; let’s get to marching. But when it comes to drinking, biologically-speaking, women are not built for guzzling the same amount of booze at the same pace as men. That doesn’t mean that you have to go shot-for-shot with Hank the Tank, or that you have to sit in the corner sipping on a Shirley Temple all night, either. As in all things, moderation is key. Make sure to alternate between alcoholic beverages and water, drink slowly, keep count of your drinks, and eat food so that you can delay the rate of alcohol absorption.
And maybe let that meathead at the end of the bar have that last Jaeger-bomb at last call. While he’s feeling like sh*t the next morning, you’ll be handling your business, happy in the knowledge that you can have your booze and drink it, too.