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Alcohol overload, risk of sex assault linked

Updated: July 28, 2012 6:10AM



We all know that drinking too much can lead to a massive hangover, but did you also know that too many drinks can increase your risk of sexual assault?

A recent Australian study surveyed more than 2,000 college students for four years and found that women who binge drink are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. They also are more likely to forgo safer sex practices such as condoms.

Sadly, binge drinking is becoming increasingly common, particularly among young people and college students. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about 90 percent of teenage alcohol use is binge drinking (which is defined as drinking four or more drinks in two hours or less), and the highest rate of binge drinking in the country occurs among people ages 18-21.

While binge drinking is risky for men, excess alcohol use can be particularly scary when it comes to women. While many women might be able to drink like “one of the boys”’ the truth is that male and female bodies process alcohol differently. Men tend to weigh more but they also have less body fat, which means that their bodies are more efficient at processing alcohol. Fatty tissue is not effective at breaking down alcohol, which is why a woman can drink less than a man but still end up more intoxicated than him and for a longer period of time.

In other words, don’t be fooled just because you are drinking the same amount (or even less) than your date or male companions — the alcohol can hit you harder and faster, and that can lead to major risks, both in the present and down the road.

For example, studies have shown that women who drink to excess are more likely than men to experience the harmful effects of alcohol, including cirrhosis, brain damage, cancer and heart damage. And, as mentioned above, women who binge drink are more likely to be victims of sexual assault: Research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that college students were more likely to be raped if both the victim and the perpetrator used alcohol (1 in 20 college women are sexually assaulted each year).

Parents can use studies such as these as teachable moments when talking to their kids about binge drinking and the risks of alcohol abuse. With the recent graduations, many parents are now getting ready to enjoy one last summer with their teens before sending them off to their first year of college. It can be a daunting endeavor, especially when you consider the risks out there. That’s why it it’s important to talk to your kids (both young men and young women) about alcohol abuse and the long-term risks of partying.

College kids (and people of all ages) can benefit from real-world, usable advice, such as:

† Avoid communal punch bowls and only drink cocktails that you make yourself. GHB (“roofies”) is odorless and tasteless, and it can be slipped into your drink in a mere moment. Make your own drinks and then keep them with you: Setting it down on the bar while you hit the dance floor could be a recipe for disaster.

† Have a glass of water between drinks. Set a limit on how much you want to drink (i.e. two beers) and then stick to it.

† Don’t try and drink like one of the boys. Listen to your own body and don’t give into peer pressure when it comes to downing drinks or taking shots. Know your limits.

† Don’t accept rides from people you just met, and resist the urge to go home with the cute guy you just met. No matter how “normal” someone appears, a stranger is a stranger, and you should never put yourself at such grave risk. Get his number and meet up him later for lunch or coffee: Any guy worth your time will respect your wishes and won’t pressure you to come home with him.

† If you can’t stick to your limits and routinely experience negative consequences as a result of binge drinking, it could be a sign that you might have an alcohol problem. Look to your college health services department for help, or go to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of drlauraberman.com.



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