Female use of drugs, drinking and smoking on the rise

(U-WIRE) A recent national survey showed that female drug use, alcohol consumption and smoking are on the rise. At a time when overall numbers for teenage drug and alcohol abuse are declining, women are catching up to, and in some cases, outpacing, men in almost all areas.

This is a surprising trend, according to the health care officials, because traditionally, women have been more conservative in using drugs, alcohol or smoking. The news has health care officials worried and wondering why girls have begun to close the gap.

But the survey does not necessarily prove that more women are experimenting with alcohol and drugs, only that there are more women admitting to having done so.

At the University of Massachusetts, the same trends are emerging. Dr. Jennifer Lexington, a staff psychologist at Mental Health Services, said that over the past few years, there have been more women coming forward and admitting substance abuse.

First reported in the Washington Post, the survey was interpreted as a sign that women were experimenting with freedom that had previously been granted only to men.

“I think that it’s oversimplified,” said Dr. Harry Rockland-Miller, director of Mental Health Services and clinical psychologist at the University. However, he does think that there is some merit to the argument.

He pointed to other areas in public health where women were going against conventional trends, such as suicide. Traditionally, men were thought to attempt suicide more violently using guns, while women were thought to use more passive methods like pills.

Recent research, however, shows otherwise. More and more, Rockland-Miller said, arguments that typecast genders are becoming obsolete.

Diane Fedorchak, project director of BASICS, an alcohol screening and intervention program on campus, pointed out that the alcohol industry also plays a key role. In recent years, the industry has begun to target a new demographic that was traditionally ignored: college-aged students. Alcoholic beverages, especially flavored vodka drinks, are being tailored to instill brand loyalty in young females.

“I think we have to look at the context that women grow up in,” said Fedorchak. “What are our billboards saying? What are TV commercials selling? This all adds up.”

Societal expectations are also shifting greatly.

“The idea that ‘women don’t fight, women don’t do drugs’ used to be accepted a while ago. That kind of a stigma is not true anymore,” said Lexington.

One student on campus, who admitted to using drugs, says that in her hometown, it was not acceptable for women to do drugs.

“On campus, though, it’s an even playing field,” she said.

Another female student who admitted to recently overcoming an alcohol abuse problem, feels differently. She found that there was no stigma attached to being a female.

“Alcohol and college go hand in hand these days,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl.”

Regardless of why more women are consuming alcohol and drugs, health services on campus is getting ready to address the issue. Last year, Mental Health Services convened a group specifically designed to help females with substance abuse problems. Although the group is not in session this year, the problem is still a priority.

Fedorchak is also heading a renewed effort to address these issues on campus. Every year, health education takes surveys of students and uses the surveys as a benchmark for progress to be made. These allow BASICS and other programs on campus to set the tone for conversations with students.

“It’s less of a female problem or a male problem anymore,” said Lexington. “It’s just a problem that affects people. Hopefully we can address the need as it arises.”

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