More women are engaging in high-risk drinking behavior
Los Angeles, CA (Vocus) August 13, 2009
The Long Island mom who killed herself and seven others in a wrong-way crash on the Taconic State Parkway in New York reportedly was acutely intoxicated on alcohol and marijuana. Her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. Investigators also noted that Schuler had another six grams of vodka in her stomach that had not yet entered her blood stream.
Diane Schuler was driving home from a family camping trip with her daughter, son, and three nieces, all children under the age of nine. Although the family disputes that the mother was an alcoholic, it is hard to reconcile the idea that a normal drinker would risk driving a car full of young children while under the influence of the equivalent of 10 drinks of vodka (a bottle was found in her vehicle) and after having smoked marijuana less than 1 hour before the crash.
Schuler also killed the two people in the car she hit head on.
Schuler is part of a disturbing trend in the United States: while the rate of drunk driving among men has been falling, it has been rapidly rising among women. The gap between men and women is closing in drunk driving cases, with an almost 29% increase in arrests of women from 1998 to 2007. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that they receive 17,000 child endangerment calls every year from individuals concerned that children are being driven by alcohol-impaired drivers, many of them mothers.
“More women are engaging in high-risk drinking behavior,” says David Sack, M.D., CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, a premier international alcohol rehab located in California, “But they also tend to be better at concealing their alcohol abuse. They will drink alone at home, and they are less likely to get help. Women tend to be in a later stage of alcoholism than men by the time they seek treatment.”
“What we’re also seeing at Promises, is an increase in binge drinking. We talk about alcoholics, but in fact the real issue has been a dramatic increase in binge drinking. We usually see this behavior in young adults, but now we are seeing it in women during their child-bearing years. Studies have shown that binge drinkers, who may normally seem to be moderate drinkers, are 14 times more likely to drive while intoxicated than non-binge drinkers,” Dr. Sack explains.
Binge drinking is defined as any single drinking occasion in which more than five drinks are consumed. Binge drinking results in acute impairment, and according to a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, causes a substantial percentage of all alcohol-related deaths.
Many people cannot fathom how a mother could drink and drive when her young children are in the car. Dr. Sack explains that this is because once a person begins drinking, judgment is diminished.
“As they drink or use a drug their judgment changes and they start to be unable to tell how impaired they are. That’s when they engage in risky behaviors they would not consider when sober,” Dr. Sack explains.
Family members reacted with shock to the finding that Diane Schuler was drunk and stoned while driving. According to Dr. Sack, it is not uncommon for family members to minimize drinking behavior or dismiss occasional binge-drinking incidents as isolated incidents.
“Ignoring signs of binge drinking or other drug abuse is potentially very dangerous. Women tend to hide their substance abuse well. And if they binge drink only occasionally, family members will often underestimate the riskiness of this behavior,” Dr. Sack says.
Promises Treatment Centers has seen more of this type of binge drinker in recent years and has developed an effective approach to treatment, especially in cases where a serious event has not yet occurred. Because these patients focus on the fact that they don’t drink every day or show more typical hallmark signs of alcoholism, they dismiss the riskiness of their drinking.
“They need help in confronting the potential dangers and losses they face during their binge episodes. Therapists can walk the client through a series of 'what if' scenarios. What if they kill someone with their car? What if their child is in trouble and they can’t help? What if they are arrested for a DUI while their children are in the car? At Promises, we want our clients to reach their own conclusion of how their lives would be better if they stop binging, and the therapist helps them to explore rather than run from the consequences of their behaviors,” says Dr. Sack.
Dr. Sack recommends that people do not drive after even a single drink.
“It impairs your judgment. It puts you and others at risk. It’s better to have a zero-alcohol policy than try to guess how intoxicated you might be, particularly for women who can be over the limit after a single drink.”
Promises Treatment Centers has alcohol and drug rehab centers in West Los Angeles and Malibu, California. Promises is part of Elements Behavioral Health, which aims to fill the gaps in mental health treatment between inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services; in co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders; and between traditional and alternative settings to help clients that are underweight or overweight due to eating related and other issues. The goal is for full recovery and well being with permanent life change and life style improvement and not just symptom reduction. Our focus is not only on the patient, but on the health and support of the family system. For more information about Elements Behavioral Health visit http://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com. For more information about Promises Treatment Centers visit http://www.promises.com or call 866-466-1276.