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May 5, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Young 734.487.4400

EMU psychologist offers new insights into college-age women and the urge to "be one of the guys" when it comes to drinking

YPSILANTI - An Eastern Michigan University psychologist's research about binge drinking among women undergraduates has yielded some initial results that may change the way in which society thinks about today's young women.

For an increasing number of college women, brash and rowdy behavior and excessive alcohol consumption may be new ways to make a feminist statement, said EMU psychologist Amy Young, an expert on alcohol among women and adolescents. In what Young calls an arguably distorted twist of the idea of gender equality presented by earlier generations of feminists, some college women seem to believe that being able to partake in "bad boy behavior" demonstrates gender equality.

"We looked at why college women are engaging in frequent binge drinking and, specifically, whether they are drinking to express gender equality or 'to be one of the guys,'" said Young. "While a small percentage of college women are frequent binge drinkers, the percentage seems to be increasing."

According to Young, binge drinking is defined as drinking four alcoholic drinks in a sitting for females and five alcoholic drinks in a sitting for males. The difference reflects gender differences in the rate of intoxication due to body size and fat content.

"Frequent binge drinking refers to excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking at least three times in a two-week period," said Young. "It is the kind of drinking we need to pay attention to because this is when the negative consequences of drinking - blackouts, sexual assault, personal injuries and impaired driving - are most likely to occur."

Previous national and local research studies have shown that there has been a dramatic increase in excessive and dangerous levels of alcohol consumption among a sub-group of college women, but these studies were unable to explain why this increase has occurred, said Young.  

She and co-investigators Michele Morales, Sean Esteban McCabe, Carol Boyd and Hannah d'Arcy, all from the University of Michigan, set out to understand whether drinking behaviors among today's college women are tied to their beliefs about gender, feminism and "new rules" young adults have about what is considered appropriate behavior for females.

Young and her colleagues conducted five focus groups with a total of 50 University of Michigan women during summer 2003. The results, which were recently published in the journal, "Substance Abuse & Misuse," found that:

All women in the study, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed, said that if they were to "drink like a guy," their male peers would take notice. To "drink like a guy" meant they could consume large quantities of alcohol in one sitting, and engage in drinking games that encouraged excessive alcohol consumption;

The ability to "drink like a guy" meant that an undergraduate woman would be able to distinguish herself from other female undergraduates in the eyes of her male peers;

While all of the women spoke about the favorable impression they could make on their male peers if they "drank like a guy," not all chose to engage in this behavior;

Women who engaged in excessive drinking were particularly concerned with not appearing like a "girly-girl," a term the women used to refer to negative aspects of traditional female gender roles of earlier generations; and

Women who drank excessively associated the ability to tolerate large amounts of alcohol with demonstration of control.

"Unlike previous generations of college women, this generation grew up with Title IX and were told that they could do anything boys could do," said Young, the study's primary investigator.   "They were encouraged to compete with boys and were told that there was nothing a boy could do that they couldn't.   So, it shouldn't be surprising that, as young adults, they are now competing with their male counterparts to see who can be the brashest or boldest in outrageous behavior."  

Although Young cautions that their initial findings are based on a small sample size, the findings shed light on why some college women are drinking excessively and she hopes it will encourage researchers to conduct larger quantitative studies on the topic.

"It is vital that future research explores whether the increase in women's alcohol consumption is associated with an increase in the negative consequences associated with heavy alcohol consumption," said Young. "It's also important to examine the long-term implications of the increase in drinking. While most college students leave their heavy drinking days behind when they graduate, previous research indicates that heavy alcohol consumption during college is associated with problem drinking 10 years following graduation."

A graduate of Earlham College in Indiana, Young received a doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed a University of Michigan postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Young's other research studies have included: "Teen Pregnancy Prevention: A Common Theme Among Shades of Differences," "Outcome Evaluation of Federally Funded Residential Substance Abuse Treatment in Michigan Prisons,"   "Adolescents' Sexual Inferences about Drinking Women" and the evaluation of an intervention program for pregnant women in prisons.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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