Rates of Binge Drinking Among College Females Increase

Experts Attribute Increase to Low Self- Esteem and Media


Published: October 30, 2008

The rate of binge drinking among young women is increasing, according to a recent study on underage drinking, and Fordham women, some of whom seem to be part of the trend, are wondering why, along with the experts.

“You now hear that phrase ‘Oh god, I was THAT girl at the party last night,’” said Cassie Foote, FCLC ’10, who turned 21 in September. “The one who’s fall-down drunk, smeared make-up, making out with everyone until she vomits. Instead of the frat guy, it’s ‘that girl’—I think the stigma [regarding women and drinking] has definitely changed,” she said.

While the rate of binge drinking among underage college women is increasing, the rate of binge drinking among underage college men has remained relatively constant, according to a study on underage drinking released this year by Georgetown University’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.

James S. MacDonall, a professor of psychology at Fordham who has conducted research involving addiction and substance abuse, cited the “women’s liberation movement” as a major reason for the increase in the number of women who binge drink.

“Women used to drink less and be drunk less often in public. [Women] are no longer treated differently than men,” he said.

Gerry Russo, a licensed clinical social worker who taught psychology classes on addiction at Marymount Manhattan, compared modern women’s drinking habits to those in the 1960s.

“I know that there were girls drinking when I was in high school, getting [trashed],” said Russo. “But nobody talked about it; it was all hidden. I think there’s always been a tremendous amount of drinking among females of all ages; they just hid it better [when I was young] because it was so socially unacceptable.”

Experts and students alike also largely attributed the change in female drinking habits to media influences.

“Drunkenness in the media has definitely made women drink more,” said Anne Bobrick, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City who treats college-age individuals with drinking problems.

“I have a lot of young patients who watch ‘Sex and the City’—and they drink a lot on that show,” she said. “On ‘Sex and the City’ it’s like, ‘I have a problem, I need a drink.’”

MacDonall said, “When women are drinking and other women see them be more outgoing and see that that behavior gets rewarded and that they get more attention, other [girls] will imitate [the behavior]—” whether the role models in question are roommates or celebrities.

“The whole madness with [T.V. shows like] ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Sex and the City’ makes girls want to drink more,” said Foote. “I think everyone is responsible for him- or herself, but [those shows make the idea] of getting dressed up, going out and getting smashed look cool.”

Some experts attributed the increase in binge drinking among young women to their easy access to alcohol. “The availability of liquor is an increasing problem,” said Celia Fisher, a psychology professor at Fordham who has conducted studies on college students and alcohol use.

“Not a lot of places are carding,” said Megan Siemers, assistant director for programming at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). “It’s easier if you’re a girl in New York City, because women can get into [bars] easier than men.”

Foote said, “In New York City as opposed to a campus, it’s a lot easier to put on your high heels and makeup and a [sexy] outfit and look older… I think at certain bars as soon as you start talking sweet to the bartender, they stop carding you.”

Another reason girls drink? Insecurity. “Girls with lower self-esteem drink more,” Bobrick said. A study from Saint Francis Xavier University indicates that girls who are unhappy with themselves drink in order to avoid—and escape from—their insecurities.

The influence of media appears to be two-fold. Girls not only see drunkenness being normalized, according to the experts consulted for this article, but the media emphasis on beauty leads to a loss of self-esteem, which can then result in excess binge drinking. Bobrick said, “I’m working with so many women who feel ugly… some respond to it with alcohol.”

“When I’m getting ready [to go out], I’ll drink. I don’t worry about what I look like as much when I drink,” said Kelly Whelan, FCLC ’10. Whelan said she believes girls get drunk “because then all their insecurities are gone.”

Erin*, FCLC ’10, classified her self-esteem as “low to average” and said that she drinks before going out to “loosen up.” She stated that she “definitely feels more attractive” after she’s been drinking because being drunk enables her to feel better about her looks and not focus on her flaws or on her weight.

“Girls with low self-esteem cannot walk into a bar or a party and talk to a guy. Drunk girls with low self-esteem can walk into a bar or party and talk to a guy,” said Yasmine Kamel, FCLC ’11.

“You get self-esteem by being successful,” MacDonall said. Girls with low self-esteem may drink because they feel that they will then be more socially successful.

Demma said that he attributes the increasing numbers of girls with low self-esteem to changes in family structure and in society. “There is a lack of guidance… lack of parental supervision, lack of positive affirmation. [We see] severe amounts of depression, low self-worth, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.”

These psychological issues—and the idea of drinking to self-medicate them—are more prevalent in females, according to multiple sources. Fisher said that females are more likely than males to drink to “allay anxiety and depression.”

Anthony Demma, a New York City psychologist who works in an outpatient drug and alcohol rehab center, said that he sees the increase in female drinking partly as a result of a “need to fit in with their peers.” He continued, “Girls will do it for the need to be accepted
and loved…”

“We’re conditioned [to drink],” said Sandra Choy, FCLC ’09. “We see everyone doing it, and it’s not a big deal anymore.”

“There’s a lack of shame involved,” Demma said. “They say, ‘Isn’t everybody doing it?’”

Foote said, “I think a lot of girls drink to go out and flirt and hook up with people. They think that to be the ‘cool girl’ is to go out to the bar with a bunch of guys and be the crazy party girl. They think that that is what defines fun in the eyes of other people.”

Russo suggested that, because of the “everybody’s doing it” mentality, girls are less averse to getting fall-down drunk, behaving badly and being labeled a “slut.”

“No one’s worried about being ladylike anymore,” Foote said. “Respect for yourself is dead. Now, it makes you a prude.”