Newswise — Binge or heavy episodic drinking (HED) – defined as four or more drinks in a two-hour period – among U.S. university women has increased by 40 percent during the past 30 years. This dramatic development suggests that women are “closing the gender gap” by  drinking at rates similar to those of men. Feminine norms – beliefs and expectations about what it means to be a woman – may play a role in altering drinking patterns among this group. This study examined trajectories of HED among young adult women and the  gender-relevant factors that may predict these trajectories.

Researchers used survey data to identify three trajectory classes of HED – high-risk, monthly, and abstaining – during one year of alcohol consumption by 700 underage women attending a mid-Atlantic university in the United States. Additional analyses evaluated feminine-norm endorsement, sorority status, perceived peer norms, expectancies, alcohol-related consequences, and marijuana use as predictors of the trajectory classes.

Overall, 451 (64.4%) of the underage women were classified into one of two groups: high-risk (31%), reporting weekly HED over the course of the year, or monthly (33.4), reporting HED roughly once a month. Abstainers (35.6%) reported no HED over the course of the year. The high-risk group reported significantly more alcohol-related problems and marijuana use than the other two groups.  Being invested in looking physically attractive in public was positively associated with membership in the higher-risk HED groups. Conversely, endorsing sexual fidelity was negatively related to membership in the higher-risk HED groups. The study’s authors recommended that prevention and intervention programs should target gender-relevant factors among underage women engaging in problematic patterns of drinking and marijuana use.

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research