A recent blog on alcohol poisoning motivated me to ask a group of late high school and college aged women why they think their peers drink to such excesses. About half of college students who drink consume alcohol through binge drinking, resulting in over 1800 deaths and more than 97,000 victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults or date rapes. The following are reasons for this behavior according to young adults I’ve questioned.
When young women hear the word party, they automatically think ‘alcohol’; that’s how ingrained this behavior has become for them. They shared that they don’t go to parties to get drunk; it just happens. At every wedding I have attended in the past several years, I have noticed that by the middle of the reception 20-somethings gravitate to the bar and start downing shots. This too has become the norm, and it contributes to imbibing more than you think and things getting out of control.
They also admitted that their generation has a hard time with casual conversations, mostly because of the amount of time spent on texting and social media. They believe they have lost the ability to have deep exchanges, and alcohol allows them to feel more comfortable talking to people in person at parties.
The majority of young adult women I know have hooked up with guys at parties; sometimes with friends they know and sometimes with new acquaintances. Almost always they need to get wasted to do it; thus another reason for binge drinking.
The amount of mental health concerns for college students has been increasing, including overwhelming depression, anxiety, and stress. Alcohol serves as a form of self-medication, a way to escape from your troubles and feelings. Women are more likely than men to say they drink to cope with emotions, take a break from their problems, and deal with family issues.
Finally, teens are more vulnerable to binge drinking and addictions because the pleasure center of their brain matures before the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and executive decision-making. The increased reward drive in the adolescent brain along with an enhanced dopamine release in response to stimulating experiences causes young adults to place greater emphasis on the potential positive aspects of experiences like drinking vs. potential negative outcomes. They are drawn to risky behaviors and thrills, with drinking being just one avenue.
Understanding why young women overindulge with alcohol gives us the blueprint for prevention. Learning healthy ways to express emotions and cope with challenges and stress is a biggie. Encouraging them to have breaks from their ‘devices’ would let them experience more quiet, still times, as well as opportunities to engage in more meaningful conversations. You could start with the dinner table and car rides when they are young. Too many parents drink too much and model that alcohol is needed to unwind or to have fun. Do we really need to have alcohol served at little league games and for every family gathering?
Kids need education about how their brains work and subsequent potential risky behaviors as they hit adolescence. They can learn to trust their intuition in order to make good choices, and to be true to what’s right for them no matter what the crowd is doing. Make all of these steps part of an ongoing discussion and education.