Alana Mokma remembers the first time she got drunk during a friend’s birthday party. The Long Island was so strong, she couldn’t walk to the bathroom. At first, she thought someone had drugged her. When she realized it was just alcohol, she was shocked, then hooked: “I began to crave that high,” she wrote on her blog. “The pains of my past no longer haunted me.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control released a report detailing binge drinking among young women. The report concluded that one in eight women between the ages of 18-34, and one-in-five high school girls, binge drink on a regular basis.
The study didn’t speculate about causes behind the high rates, but Mokma, now 32, explained from her own experience it often has to do with emotional turbulence, feelings of unhappiness, and thoughts of low self-worth.
“Many women aren't comfortable with who they are and with their identity,” Mokma said. “They're being told that they need to show up in a certain way, that it’s not OK for them to be who they are.”
For Mokma, binge drinking was the only thing that silenced the voices in her head, “the ones that said I wasn’t fun enough or pretty enough,” she said. On her blog, she describes how her binging spiral lasted two years. During that time, she racked up thousands of dollars on credit cards to afford the bar-hopping and pre-game social events she hosted in her apartment.
“I became addicted to the emotional high of it,” she said. “I would feel like I was a more enjoyable, even though that wasn’t the case.”
Mokma choked up when I asked her about her turnaround experience. It included losing several friends and a trip to Seattle, where she met her sister’s Bible study friends. They knew about her lifestyle, but loved her anyway. Mokma sensed God telling her He had plans for her that would never happen if she didn’t change her lifestyle. Motivated by a renewed faith and the conviction her behavior set a poor example for her younger sister, she vowed to give up alcohol, and she did.
Personal relationships and friendships can be a deterrent or an accelerant for women addicted to binge drinking. Friends helped Mokma stop. But Matt Cameron, a former youth minister now doing graduate work at Liberty University, has seen the other side.
The need for affirmation is a huge motivation to drink too much, he said. Lots of young women drink to impress their friends, accepting shot-for-shot challenges with men, or feeling like they have to drink every cocktail a man buys for them. Cameron, who works at a restaurant on the side, said he’s seen younger women turn to the bar for emotional solace: “Women come to the bars alone or with other young women trying to talk about break-ups or the fact that they’re still single.”
According to Thomas Friedan, CDC director, binge drinking -- the consumption of four or more alcoholic beverages in a 2-3 hour span -- accounted for at least half of alcohol-related deaths last year. For women, it could lead to other health risks, including heart disease, STD’s, and a higher risk of breast cancer.
The study contradicts traditional associations of binge drinking as a man’s problem and suggests parents and medical professionals start talking to young women about the risks. Cameron urged parents to consider their own alcohol consumption. If minors grow up seeing parents associate a bad day with a drink, they’ll be likely to imitate that behavior, he said. Mokma suggested starting with more personal questions: What causes girls to want the next drink?
“If they were honest, it would be that they didn't love and value themselves,” she said. “I would go at it from that angle, try to affirm who they are as a person and their beauty.”