Both Caucasian and Hispanic women in the U.S. are drinking more than ever before. More are alcoholics and more are engaging in risky binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out alarming statistics and warnings about the dangers of drinking heavily for women. While men have traditionally been bigger drinkers, women are catching up. Hispanic women, in particular, are overlooked when it comes to studies and prevention aimed at drinking.
Hispanic Women Dying of Alcoholism
Two high-profile deaths from complications of alcoholism have brought the issue of Hispanic women and drinking to the forefront of the media. Both deaths were surprising to the public and both women hid their problems with alcohol well. The first incident was the death of Elaine Rivera in 2013. An accomplished journalist devoted to chronicling the lives of the poor and disadvantaged, she was also a chronic alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver. She was only 54. Another shocking death was the loss of actress Elizabeth Peña in late 2014, also of complications from alcoholism. The Cuban-American movie star was just 55 years old, and both her death and cause of death came as a surprise to many.
A Problem for All Hispanic Women
Although these two women died in the public eye and brought the issue of drinking and alcoholism into the light, countless unknown Hispanic women are struggling with drinking every day in the U.S. The CDC reported on binge drinking in women, finding that excessive drinking accounted for approximately 23,000 deaths among women in the early 2000s and that half of those resulted from binge drinking.
The CDC report found that in more recent years, one in eight adult women and one in five high school girls binge drinks an average of three times per month. Binge drinking for women is considered four or more drinks in one sitting, but the average number of drinks per binge according to the report was closer to six. Perhaps contrary to what is expected, women with more education and higher incomes are more likely to binge drink and to drink at all.
What is perhaps most troubling in all the statistics about women and drinking is the prevalence of drinking and binge drinking among high school girls. Caucasian and Hispanic girls drink the most with 38 percent and 20 percent prevalence of drinking reported. For binge drinking, Hispanic girls surpass their Caucasian classmates, but barely. Just over 22 percent of Hispanic girls binge drink, while just under 22 percent of Caucasian girls do.
Risks and Dangers of Drinking
Drinking to excess is dangerous for anyone, but women face particular risks that men do not. Women are more likely to be at risk for sexual or physical assault when binge drinking. Studies that investigate the health effects of drinking have traditionally used male participants, but we know that women process alcohol differently. Women usually become intoxicated more easily. Women also have the added risk of harming an unborn child. Women who binge drink are at risk of having unplanned pregnancies and of causing birth defects.
The issue of alcoholism and binge drinking among women is not just a problem for individuals. It is a public health issue. With high-profile tragedies such as the deaths of Peña and Rivera, as well as reports and warnings from government studies, much needed awareness is being brought to the issue of women and alcohol. We need more awareness, education and prevention for all women, but particularly for those in the Hispanic community if we are to avoid future tragedies.