A recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 14 million U.S. women binge drink three times a month on average. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting for men and four or more alcoholic drinks for women. Binge drinking among women is both dangerous and often overlooked. It is most common among non-Hispanic white women from higher socio-economic backgrounds, typically in households earning $75,000 or more per year. Many women began binge drinking in adolescence or early adulthood. As with many other types of substance abuse disorders, alcohol and/or other substances serve as a means of coping with difficult feelings, such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Furthermore, adolescence and young adulthood for girls and women can be particularly challenging, since this developmental period can create, for some women, ambivalent feelings regarding separation and individuation—a necessary developmental phase resulting in one becoming an emotionally healthy, competent and mature woman.
Binge drinking deeply affects women emotionally and physically. Physically, it increase a woman’s risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and various other metabolic disorders. Emotionally, binge drinking can worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, and escalate existing family and/or relationship problems. Moreover, binge drinking negatively impacts memory, concentration, our ability to plan, as well as our decision-making capacities. Several studies have shown that binge drinking thins the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for attention, planning, decision-making, processing of emotions, and controlling our impulsive thoughts and behaviors. Binge drinking also increases our risk of accident, injury, and becoming the victim of violence.
There are many individual factors associated with a woman’s risk of developing binge drinking behaviors at any age. Underlying depression, anxiety, impulsivity, a family history of alcohol abuse and the expectation that drinking will “make things better” are all factors contribute to binge drinking and its continuation.
Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
Lying to others or hiding your drinking habits.
Friends or family members have expressed their concern about your drinking.
The need to drink in order to relax or feel better.
Having “blackouts” or forgetting what you did while you were drinking.
Drinking more than you intended to.
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a binge drinking episode, such as shaking or body tremors, restlessness, poor concentration, mood swings, depression, anxiety and changes in vitals such as heart rate, blood pressure, sleep and appetite.
Educate yourself about the physical and emotional consequences of binge drinking.
Identify what specific feelings and circumstances trigger your binge drinking.
Try to have a plan in place for when you are more likely to binge drink.
Be less critical of yourself. Feelings of shame and harsh self-criticism can contribute to the continuation binge drinking, creating what feels to be an unchangeable vicious cycle.
Profound feelings of shame, guilt and self-criticism can also hinder one from seeking treatment.
Seek professional help in order to work on the emotional issues underlying your binge drinking. Professional treatment can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms, leading to higher self-esteem and a happier, more satisfying life.
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