College-Age Girls Exceed Drinking Guidelines More Frequently Than Their Male Counterparts

There are short and long-term negative consequences related to alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has issued guidelines defining low-risk drinking standards for both men and women. These differ slightly between gender because women are more physiologically sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Therefore, they are urged to intake less in volume and frequency.

The current NIAAA statement recommends women limit their intake to seven or less alcoholic drinks per week and no more than three in a single day. For men, no more than 14 within a week’s time or four per day.

However, research funded by the NIAAA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found college-age girls frequently exceed the suggested directive on a weekly basis – more so then their male counterparts. This action puts women at an increased risk for serious health conditions.

Health risks have been linked to chronic consumption of alcohol for women, which are liver damage (alcoholic hepatitis), heart disease, a 10 percent increase of breast cancer occurrence, and possible adverse effects on fetal development if imbibed during pregnancy.

Drinking too much too fast can result in liquor/alcohol poisoning – in which one has overindulged to the point where the liver is incapable of keeping up (metabolizing). Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, labored breathing, confusion, unconsciousness, and death.

Women who drink to the point of limited coherence or unconsciousness can put themselves at risk for unwanted physical/sexual contact.

Bettina B. Hoeppner of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine – an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School – and her colleagues asked 992 college students, 575 females and 417 males, to report their daily drinking habits on a biweekly basis, using web-based surveys throughout their first year of college.

The data revealed not only did the alcohol use appear excessive among female students, but also remained persistent. In comparison, men’s weekly drinking declined. Unfortunately, it was not determined as to why they continuously exceeded recommended limits – engaging in dangerous binge-like drinking habits. Researchers did surmise a lack of awareness to the possible long term consequences as a contributing factor, and suggested clinicians make a point to educate young patients whenever possible on the possible dangers.

The results will be published in the October 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical Experimental Research (ACER) and are currently available at Early View. Co-authors of the ACER paper, “Sex Differences in College Student Adherence to NIAAA Drinking Guidelines,” included Anna L. Paskausky of the Center for Addiction Medicine of Harvard Medical School, and the Connell School of Nursing at Boston College; Kristina M. Jackson, and Nancy P. Barnett of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.

Ultimately, the NIAAA states no one under the age of 18 should drink, nor should anyone who is pregnant or trying to conceive, and people taking medications should be aware there is a possibility of a negative interaction. If people are going to use alcohol, they should be mindful of the side effects, use common sense, and adhere to moderation.

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