When Marie arrived at a high school party at a friend’s house more than four years ago, she planned to get drunk.
Marie, then 15, turned to her favorite drink of vodka and cranberry juice. Maybe she had four drinks. Maybe she had more. She cannot remember. “I was just really, really trashed,” says Marie, now a 19-year-old college student who asked to be identified by only her first name. “I didn’t even realize how drunk I was.”
She does remember talking to a guy, a They must have gone upstairs to a bedroom. Marie figures she passed out. She woke up “in the middle of things, trying to push him off me.”
She was raped, a fact that she has only recently begun to admit to herself.
“I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I don’t want to put myself in that position again. I have honestly seen so many girls stumbling drunk.”
According to a recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, underage drinkers consume more than 11 percent of the nation’s alcohol.
Throughout March, underage college, high school and even some middle school students spend spring break at parties and sleepovers where they expect to drink.
And, like Marie, a growing number of those drinkers will be teen girls, helping to close a gender gap that once existed between underage drinkers, both the studies and experts say.
The CASA study says that ninth-grade girls are as likely to drink as ninth-grade boys.
“There’s a feeling among girls that they can keep up with the guys,” says Sabrina Solin Weill, executive editor of Cosmo!Girl magazine and author of “We’re Not Monsters: Teens Speak Out About Teens in Trouble” .
“Academically, in sports and in the workforce, young women are really making strides in terms of being on an equal playing field with the guys. Unfortunately,
this doesn’t apply to drinking alcohol, although the girls may have a feeling that `I can do this, also.'”
If you ask girls, they will tell you this attitude exists. “The girls are like, `You can drink the guys under the table.’ I thought, `Are you kidding me?'” says Lindsay, a 19-year-old college freshman who asked to use only her first name. She says she started drinking in high school but doesn’t get drunk.
Experts agree that underage drinking remains a serious problem regardless of gender.
Some believe that there ought to be greater education and more emphasis on abstinence. Others say that young adults ought to be taught to drink responsibly. Many point to the strength parents.
Teen girls, most anxious to fit in, are more likely to feel pressured by friends of both genders to drink, both the girls and experts say.
The younger you drink regardless of gender, the higher the risk of developing a lifelong addiction, experts say. Girls and women simply cannot drink as much as their male counterparts based on their size and an inability to metabolize alcohol as well as males. They also are vulnerable to sexual assault, or at the very least liable to make sexual choices that they probably wouldn’t make if sober.
Devon Jersild, author of “Happy Hours, Alcohol in a Woman’s Life,” says the young women she interviewed for her book used alcohol as some adult women do: “to loosen up for sex.”
“They weren’t sure they wanted sex, but they felt a lot of pressure. Alcohol gave them an easy out. It allows them to participate … if you end up embarrassed about it, you can say `Oh, God, I was drunk,'” she says.
“The real irony is that because girls feel freer and more competent to compete with men, they feel more in a position to be drinking heavily, but the reality is that it interferes with becoming powerful young women.”
While the stigma against young women drinking has lessened, Jersild says other stigmas still exist. Girls and women still bear the brunt of blame in cases of sexual assault, and parents are less likely to notice alcohol or drug problems in their daughters because of the stereotypes.
“I interviewed girls who came to their families and said, `I have an alcohol problem,’ and their parents wouldn’t believe it,” she says. “… Part of it is they don’t
want to accept it because they have an ideal of what femininity is, and it doesn’t include a drinking problem.”