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How we drink: study finds different drinking habits between genders

According to a new study, men and women’s drinking cultures may be as different as moonshine and margaritas — even in situations where they drink together.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) are using this information to explore the efficacy of gender considerations for student alcohol education programs. Early results and an overview of their program were presented at an annual meeting of the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) in Indianapolis, InsideHigherEd.com reported on March 22.

Wilmington experts found students to be significantly less likely to agree with the statement, “I’m more fun when I’m drunk,” after going through gender-based alcohol education programs when compared to students that had not.

At Wilmington, peer educators are not attempting to convince students that drinking is simply a terrible thing.

“We’re talking about gender much more than we’re talking about drinking. It’s like we’re sneaking the alcohol [topic] in,” said Aimee Hourigan to InsideHigherEd.com. Hourigan is the substance abuse prevention coordinator at UNCW’s CROSSROADS program. CROSSROADS is a substance abuse prevention and education program that attempts to utilize a positive, non-judgmental message.

Carnegie Mellon is exploring the use of similar programs.

“We are in the process of using the results of AlcoholEdu to create a campaign that would resemble a social norms campaign. This means we will have information we’ve learned from AlcoholEdu such as ‘48 percent of CMU students choose not to drink’ instead of ‘CMU students shouldn’t drink’,” said Kristine M. Cecchetti, a health educator in Student Health Services.

AlcoholEdu for College is an online alcohol education course required for first-years at Carnegie Mellon. The 48 percent of non-drinking Carnegie Mellon students is a statistic derived from AlcoholEdu results.

A few audience members at the ACPA meeting said that their institutions were adopting a similar “social norms” approach to alcohol-education. Early results from the Wilmington team’s study demonstrated that this school of thought is more effective in impacting the frequency of binge drinking and the average number of drinks per session, reported InsideHigherEd.com.

The “social norms” school of thought is a teaching method developed by the National Social Norms Resource Center at Northern Illinois University. This model for alcohol education accepts student drinking and emphasizes moderation over complete sobriety.

The Wilmington presentation was titled “Men drink beer, women drink liquor,” and engaged the audience. InsideHigherEd.com reported that audience members agreed with the idea behind the title and recognized a key implication of this statement: Women drinking mixed drinks will have a harder time keeping track of liquor consumption due to the variable potencies, whereas men can simply count beers.

“Girls drink fruity drinks; guys just drink beer. And more,” said Eugene DePasquale, longtime bartender and owner of the Panther Hollow Inn on Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

“Guys are more prone to do something more dangerous than they would already do. With girls, it’s what’s happening all around them that’s more dangerous,” said DePasquale.

A new twist on regular program activities, Hourigan explained, might involve discussion among women about why they should feel comfortable with their sexuality when sober, not just when drunk.

Local bartenders agreed with this trend.

“Girls have to do shots here before they go on the dance floor,” said Kristie Hall, a bartender and waitress at Peter’s Pub on Oakland Avenue in Oakland.

While AlcoholEdu does not have two different versions for men and women, it does outline the differences in experience by gender, according to Cecchetti.

“Alcohol issues associated with gender are especially important here at CMU, where we have a larger male population than female,” Cecchetti said.

AlcoholEdu takes a look at the physical differences between men and women in terms of
hormones and body types, and the different effects on socializing are detailed. Many students cite the ability to socialize easier as a reason to drink, and men may do it as a way to look “manly.”

According to Cecchetti, seeing women compete with other women in regards to how much they can drink is more rare; however, it’s becoming more and more common to see women competing with men, such as girls against boys in a game of beer pong.

“If a man drinks heavily, it makes him seem more masculine. If a woman drinks heavily, it makes her seem less feminine,” Cecchetti said.

Another difference in the male and female drinking cultures that is explored by both AlcoholEdu and UNCW’s CROSSROADS program is sexual assault.

“In sexual assault cases, the more drunk a man is, the less he is often considered responsible. The more drunk a woman is, the more responsible she is considered,” Cecchetti said, referring to the amount of blame placed on an intoxicated male assaulter versus the intoxicated female victim.
Hall described the status quo differently.

“If you’re a girl and ... you get sloppy and touchy-feely, you’re a slut,” he said. “If the guy gets like that, he’s a scumbag, but people still don’t mind him — he is still going home with someone.”