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Before Spring Break, Explain the Science of Why Girls Can’t Drink Alcohol Like Boys

Spring break season is here and many teenage girls may be tempted to take their first drink. The AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project suggests that parents, teachers and caregivers help girls delay that drink by telling them of scientific research that shows they may be more vulnerable than boys to alcohol-related problems.

There’s reason to have the talk. The number of teens who use alcohol rose 11% from 2008 to 2009, according to a new report from the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Girls are drinking younger and more often. In the 1960s, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 7% of girls reported having their first drink between the ages of 10 and 14. Now, 31% try alcohol before high school.

Here’s some of the science to share with teen girls and boys from the AAAS project’s Facebook page:

  • Girls have less water in their bodies than boys. Girls have a slightly higher proportion of fat to lean muscle tissue, concentrating alcohol more easily in their lower percentage of body water. This means they become intoxicated faster after drinking less alcohol.
  • Girls have fewer enzymes to break alcohol down.  Alcohol dehydrogenases are a group of seven enzymes that help break down alcohol so the body processes it. Girls have fewer of them, so it is not as easy for their bodies to metabolize the alcohol they drink.
  • Girls are smaller and often weigh less than boys.  When drinking the same amount as a boy, a girl will experience a quicker rise in her blood-alcohol level, and she may stay intoxicated for a longer period of time. Girls who drink heavily can be at greater risk for alcohol poisoning because it takes less alcohol for them to get really sick.
  • Girls often prefer sweeter, carbonated mixed drinks.  Such drinks can speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

If those points don’t sell girls on abstention or drinking less, here’s another reason: Boys don’t like it when girls drink heavily, according to David J. Hanson, professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam and a member of the Science Inside Alcohol Project’s advisory board.

On his “Alcohol Problems & Solutions” Web site, Hanson discussed a recent study in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors that found seven out of 10 of the college-age women surveyed thought their male peers wanted them to have five drinks during social occasions, while the men preferred they drink half that or less.

“Not only does alcohol affect girls’ bodies differently from boys, the result of heavy drinking can be a turn-off for boys,” says Hanson. “Boys don’t want to take care of a girl who is drunk.”

The AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project will publish a book later this spring entitled “Delaying that First Drink: A Parents’ Guide.”


Learn more about the AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project