Sue Monsey started drinking at age 13 because she wanted to fit in at a new school.
Call the national Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 800-662-HELP.Go to www.cdc.gov/alcohol for more information about binge drinking.
A shy teen, she downed a half-pint of lime vodka to gain acceptance by a group of girls.
Dangers of heavy drinking
Liver: The risk of alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.Brain: Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to brain damage from excessive alcohol use.Heart: Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are more at risk than men for heart damage.Cancer: Increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast.Harm to unborn child: No amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy. Studies have shown that about 1 in 20 pregnant women drank excessively before finding out they were pregnant.Violence: Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college.Center for Disease Control and Prevention
The alcohol made her sick and she blacked out, but her drinking continued. As an adult, it cost her a job as vice president of a mortgage company.
Binge drinking among women
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks at one time:Ages Rate18-24 24.2 percent of 10,37825-34 19.9 percent of 26,04235-44 14.5 percent of 35,29045-64 9.5 percent of 112,529Over 65 2.5 percent of 94,004CDC
Before getting sober last June, Monsey was among many women who binge drink, a problem highlighted in a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An estimated 14 million U.S. women consume an average of six drinks at one time about three times monthly. Heavy drinking puts women at increased risk for breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease and unintended pregnancy, the CDC said.
Monsey, 56, said drinking hits women harder than men. Her health problems included an enlarged liver and alcohol-related seizures.
“I’m doing fabulous today,” she said.
But it has been a long, rocky road to recovery. After getting sober, the Utah native moved five years ago to Isle of Palms, where she wanted to spend time enjoying the beach and writing.
Things were fine until she decided to try just one glass of wine at a holiday party. That led to more heavy drinking that ultimately cost her the beach home. Her addiction has wrecked her marriages, she said.
“I’ve had years of sobriety, but then I drank again,” she said.
CDC scientists looked at the drinking behavior of approximately 278,000 women age 18 and over.
They also studied alcohol consumption for 7,500 high school girls. Half of all high school girls who drink alcohol reported binge drinking.
Overall, 1 in 8 women and 1 in 5 high school girls reported consuming four or more drinks on one occasion in a month during 2011.
Heavy drinking was more common among women ages 18 to 34, whites and women with household incomes of $75,000 or more, the CDC reported.
“It is alarming to see that binge drinking is so common among women and girls, and that women and girls are drinking so much when they do,” said the CDC’s Dr. Robert Brewer.
Cortney Spraker, 18, said she began drinking in middle school.
“I got in with the wrong crowd. I would sit in my room at night and have a couple of pints of vodka,” she said.
She stole money from her parents to support her habit, and drank throughout the day.
“All I wanted to do was drink. Once I start I cannot stop,” she said.
Spraker, a Syracuse, N.Y., native, said she moved here for the warmer weather. She has been sober since Nov. 15. Like Monsey, Spraker said she turned her life around at Ashley Hope, a residential center for alcoholics on Ashley River Road that is part of the nonprofit Charleston Recovery Center.
On Tuesday, Monsey led a group discussion at Ashley Hope for 18 residents, including seven women. “One alcoholic helping another,” she said. “It’s the bright spot of my life to reach out to others.”
Outreach aimed at preventing drinking problems is a focus at the College of Charleston, particularly for incoming students. All freshmen must take an alcohol-education program. Mandatory dorm meetings are held on the subject, said Jeri Cabot, dean of students.
Some 65 percent of the student body is female.
“We definitely will see females more often than males,” said Elizabeth Dixon, prevention coordinator for college Counseling and Substance Abuse Services.
Male students who use alcohol tend to drink more in one sitting. Women seem to prefer combinations of alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine found in energy drinks. Or they might mix drinking and an attention deficit disorder drug such as Adderall, she said.
Freshmen, athletes and fraternity members are at highest risk for alcohol abuse, she said.
“I think in college it tends to be binge drinking with the freshmen, the athletes and sophomores. White males are always top of the list,” she said.
Monsey said alcoholism is not choosy and does not discriminate. In one way or another, she said it harmed everyone who came in contact with her when she was drinking.
“A lot of time women don’t come forward as soon as they should. Women as a whole have a lot to live up to. We don’t want to bring shame on our families,” she said.