BALOG COLUMN: Binge drinking is no place to compete

It's likely that the only people surprised by this week's CDC report on young women and binge drinking were the CDC researchers.

At least that's what Frank Budd, director of Counseling and Substance Abuse Services at the College of Charleston, said. The report mirrored what he and his staff see with every new crop of freshmen.

“Sometimes young people see this as their version of Las Vegas,” Budd said. You know, whatever happens at college, stays at college. But YouTube and Facebook poke big holes in that notion.

It doesn't change the fact that when women binge drink, as Budd succinctly put it, “Bad things happen.”

This is despite a host of alcohol and drug awareness, education and treatment programs at the college. C of C has certain characteristics, geographic and socioeconomic, that may make the problem more visible. The campus' proximity to King Street and other bar areas leads to the not uncommon but always disturbing sight of drunken young women stumbling around late at night — sometimes alone.

And there are more women than men. Student enrollment for fall 2011 was 63.6 percent female and 36.4 percent male.

“Young people themselves say there's somewhat of a competition among women to get the attention of the men who are here,” he said. “One of the ways they're doing that is trying to drink like men do.”

Bad idea.

High risk, low reward

Life is not fair. In general, women can't eat as much as men, can't lose weight as quickly as men, and can't drink as much as men.

If you're a woman, alcohol will damage your liver, brain and heart faster than a man's. It will increase your risk of cancer.

If all that seems too abstract to think about, here's something to be more immediately concerned about: Remember those bad things Budd was talking about? He means sexual assaults.

Again, not fair, but true.

The point here is that if you're an 18- to 24-year-old woman, you are putting your long-term health and your immediate well-being at risk by binge drinking.

Change is possible

Students who wind up in the emergency room from what Budd called “alcohol-related incidents” get referred to his staff. That happened 27 times in the fall semester.

“Unfortunately, almost all our cases were young white females, freshmen and sophomores who were still in that experimental stage,” he said.

Of course, once a student's parents are notified — and Budd encouraged parents to find that balance between hovering and not communicating — students begin to make real changes in their drinking behaviors.

“We're really looking at early prevention, trying to prevent the non-drinkers or the moderate drinkers from going into the heavy drinking category.”

The three-hour online alcohol-education course that all college freshman are required to take definitely helps, Budd said, as does the college's extensive outreach and network of alcohol-abuse partners.

Bottom line: It's dangerous to be a drunken young woman.

Not fair, but true.

Reach Melanie Balog at mbalog@postandcourier.com.

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