Binge Drinking – Taking Away Your Own Power
By Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D.
The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power
(publication date 3.5.13)
Most women read “Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States and is a risk factor for many health and societal problems,” (1), and think, “Oh, too bad, this really isn’t about me. That’s about all those others, who really have problems,” without stopping to think how it could apply to them.I know this may make you a tiny bit anxious, but let’s take a moment and look at the definition of heavy and binge drinking:
o Heavy drinking is defined as more than two drinks per day on average for men or more than one drink per day on average for women. One drink a day! (1) Some of you are thinking “this is crazy,” but bear with me for a moment longer.
o Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks during a single occasion for men or four or more drinks during a single occasion for women (1). Four drinks, you may be hearing yourself say–that’s just a moderate night out!
o The reason why this doesn’t feel like a problem is that it’s common: about 1 in 8 women aged 18 years and older and 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink (2).
o Women who binge drink do so frequently – about 3 times a month (2) that is going out most weekends. And therein lies the problem for many, not realizing the impact of a “girls night out.”
Most girls and women don’t realize that drinking four or more drinks, even on occasion can create a problem, a serious problem, even a permanent problem. Binge drinking increases the chances of breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and many other health problems. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to sudden infant death syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (2). I know the long-term health effects seem very remote, to women of all ages, so let’s look at the immediate ones, and add a couple.
Sex and alcohol is a complicated relationship — it giveth and it taketh away. Alcohol gives us lower inhibitions leading to feeling more relaxed, less worried, less observant about what we’re doing, or saying. That can be, and is frequently, nice. And yes, it can ease our way into a sexual situation. This may sound even better. But alcohol also taketh. It takes away the clearness in our thinking needed when we are in an emotionally powerful situation – like asking ourselves if this is what we want to do. Yes, want, as in free will. Not want, as in, “I didn’t know what I was doing.” A patient of mine recently went with a friend to another friend’s home. There was a guy who kept trying to touch her. He kept moving in on her, crowding her until she was in a corner. That’s when she threatened him, all 90+ pounds of her to over 200 pounds of him. “When I heard myself say, what I won’t repeat now, my head cleared a little. I realized I had another choice. I could leave, and I did.”
But, if we decide we want sex, the next question is how do we protect ourselves – yes ourselves for once, not everyone else, and not his or her feelings when we make arrangements to be safe. This much alcohol can also make our thinking fuzzy, particularly when it comes understanding not only what we want to do but also how to protect ourselves by asking the right questions, and taking the right actions. Think STDs, yuck, I know, but many are preventable through the use of a condom. Think unwanted pregnancy, and yes it can happen to anyone from the President’s daughter in TV show1600 Penn, to friends, to you.
Anger and alcohol is another potent mix. I have found in my clinical work that many women binge, many times alone, because they are angry. And since we’ve all been raised to be good girls, a key belief being that we shouldn’t be angry, many women unconsciously deal with their anger by anesthetizing themselves through alcohol use. Speak about a no-win solution. God forbid they actually allow themselves to know that they are angry and express their anger. Who knows what could happen then? Maybe a solution could be reached.
Alcohol and weight gain. Yes, alcohol can make you fat. It is after all highly caloric, and has no nutritional value. I know none of the models are fat, and yes it is so unfair!
So what to do? No easy solutions you say. Well, there is one. Stop giving away your power, and using alcohol to excess is one way that women give away this vital inner resource. Begin to tap into your inner strengths, your resilience. You know what these are — the parts of you that you use in situations to help everyone else: the skills, the behaviors, others see and comment upon, so very favorably; what you do for others, the advice you give your girlfriends about drinking, about guys. What if you remembered your own advice and gave to yourself. How good would that be? Now that would be power!
Think about it…..
1. Preventing Alcohol Abuse http://www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/index.html, retrieved 1.14.13.
2. Binge Drinking: A Serious Under-Recognized Problem Among Women and Girls
http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/bingedrinkingfemale/index.html, retrieved 1.14.13.