College Drinking Culture: Men and Women Differ

“Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!”, a familiar chant during a typical Friday night on campus. Students are hanging upside down chugging down a keg, coolers filled with jungle juice and alcohol games in every room you turn in. Has college drinking gone too far? Is it time we change the culture? Depending on whom you talk to this topic  can become reasonably controversial.

Young adults between the ages of 18–25 report high rates of alcohol consumption, including heavy episodic (binge) drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks at a time (Kate, 2007). Compared to their peers not attending college, college students consume larger quantities of alcohol on drinking occasions (Kate, 2007), and as many as 43% of undergraduates report heavy episodic drinking at least once in the last two weeks (Kate., 2007). 90% of college schools provided counseling and treatment services for students, and nearly as many provided prevention services (e.g., alcohol education) for freshmen or other at-risk groups.

Three major findings emerged from a A meta-analytic review for Individual-level interventions to reduce college student drinking:

(a) individual-level alcohol interventions for college drinkers reduce alcohol use

(b) these interventions also reduce alcohol-related problems, and reductions in problems vary by sample and intervention characteristics

(c) the contrast between students who receive interventions and those in control conditions diminishes over time. provides comprehensive research-based information on issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students. An alcohol prevention strategy they propose involves parents and it is called, “Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking”. As college students arrive on campus in the fall, it’s a time of new experiences, new friendships, and making memories that will shape their future; for many students, it is also a time of underage drinking.

Outlined is the prevention strategies parents are urged to help reduce unhealthy alcohol use by:

  • Talking with students about the dangers of harmful and underage college drinking—such as the penalties for underage drinking, and how alcohol use can lead to sexual and other violence, as well as academic failure and other adverse consequences.
  • Reaching out periodically and keeping the lines of communication open, while staying alert for possible alcohol-related problems.
  • Reminding students to feel free to reach out to them to share information about their daily activities, and to ask for help if needed.
  • Learning about the school’s alcohol prevention and emergency intervention efforts.
  • Making sure students know the signs of alcohol overdose or an alcohol-related problem, and how to help.

Now with all this said, would you think there needs to be different prevention strategies for women and men?

The short answer is yes. Gender differences in alcohol use and associated problems have been the focus of research and news stories to develop prevention strategies. Below are a few links of alcohol gender based differences: 

Why alcohol affects women more than men

Think Before you drink: Alcohol Affects Men and Women & Differently

Women appear to be more vulnerable than men to many adverse consequences of alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) documents that women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood and become more impaired than men after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol. Research from the NIAAA also suggests that women are more susceptible than men to alcohol-related organ damage and to trauma resulting from traffic crashes and interpersonal violence. 

In order to be an effective alcohol prevention strategy there must be a focus on the problems affecting that subgroup of the population, being men and women in this case. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a framework called the strategic communications framework. The purpose of this Framework is to describe a strategic approach for effectively communicating information, advice and guidance across a broad range of health issues. In order to communicate effectively across the audiences (men/women), the prevention strategy has to be tailored to them. Everyone knows that men and women think different, act different and are different, after all men are from Mars and women are from Venus. 


Fact Sheet For New College Students And Parents. (n.d.). Retrieved from

H. Wechsler, M. Seibring, I.C. Liu, M.Ahl Colleges respond to student binge drinking: Reducing student demand or limiting access
Journal of American College Health, 52 (2004), pp. 159-168

Kate B. Carey, Lori A.J. Scott-Sheldon, Michael P. Carey, Kelly S. DeMartini, Individual-level interventions to reduce college student drinking: A meta-analytic review, Addictive Behaviors,

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,  No. 46. Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?

World Health Organization. WHO strategic communications framework.



Women Drinking: A Lifestyle on the Rise

Bubbly, fruity drinks are amongst most women’s favorite type of alcoholic beverages. Often associated with women are pink, girly drinks, a booming market where the alcohol industry is spending billions of dollars developing and marketing drinks geared towards women. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Women’s drinking patterns are significantly different from men’s – especially when it comes to how much and how often they drink. It is has concluded that women’s bodies react differently to alcohol than men’s bodies due to metabolism and other bodily mechanisms. That means women face more particular health risks from alcohol compared to their male counterparts.

Drinking Levels among Women
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the following statistics have supported a peak interest in research related to the rise of excessive alcohol use and risks to women’s health:
• Approximately 46% of adult women report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
• Approximately 12% of adult women report binge drinking three times a month, averaging five drinks per binge
• Most (90%) people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent
• About 2.5% of women and 4.5% of men met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year

*Statistics obtained from the CDC fact sheet on excessive use and risk to women’s health

So Why Do Women Face Higher Risks?
Research has shown that women start to have alcohol-related problems sooner and at lower alcohol volumes than men and for several reasons (NIAA,2017). Women tend to have less water in their bodies than men, meaning that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm (CDC, 2016). Amongst these reasons and others, women have become more susceptible than men to alcohol-related organ damage and trauma resulting from traffic crashes and personal violence (CDC,2016).

Health effects
Liver damage
Women who regularly misuse alcohol are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis, and liver scarring and shrinkage called cirrhosis (NIAA 2017). Loft et all, released a study that has been cited by many health organizations on the Increased susceptibility to liver disease in relation to alcohol consumption in women. They concluded that results support the concept that women may develop similarly, and sometimes even more severe, liver disease after use of less alcohol than men, the apparent difference in susceptibility to alcohol may be partly explained by differences in the volume of distribution ( Loft S, Olesen KL, Dossing M, 1987).

Heart Disease
Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart than men even for women drinking at lower levels (CDC, 2016). Cardiomyopathy and myopathy are as common in female alcoholics as in male alcoholics; these findings indicate that women are more sensitive than men to the toxic effects of alcohol on striated muscle (Urbano-Marquez A, Estruch R, Fernandez-Sola J, Nicola JM, Pare JC, Rubin E, 1995).

Brain Damage
NIAAA documents that research suggests that alcohol misuse produces brain damage more quickly in women than in men. Girls who drink in their adolescent years may be more vulnerable to brain damage than teen boys who drink, and women have become more susceptible than men to alcohol-related blackouts; periods of memory loss of events during intoxication without loss of consciousness (NIAA, 2017).

There are many other health conditions affected by excessive alcohol use that affect women. For more information, the CDC has produced a Fact sheet listing more statistics associated with women and excessive alcohol use listed here (

You should always drink responsibly, which means abiding by the NIAAA guidelines for moderate drinking, never getting behind the wheel while intoxicated and avoiding all forms of alcohol while pregnant.

CDC. March 7, 2016. Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health. Content source: Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Loft S, Olesen KL, Dossing M. Increased susceptibility to liver disease in relation to alcohol consumption in women. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1987;22(10):1251–6.
NIAA, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. June 2017. Women and Alcohol, Understanding the impact of alcohol on human health and well-being. National Institute of Health.
Urbano-Marquez A, Estruch R, Fernandez-Sola J, Nicola JM, Pare JC, Rubin E. The greater risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy and myopathy in women compared with menExternal. JAMA 1995;274(2):149–154.