Drinking has become a deeply ingrained societal norm, but there’s a fine line men and women walk down, and binge drinkers run the greatest risk. Researchers from the University of Washington examined Americans’ decade-long drinking patterns and found a substantial increase in the amount of binge drinkers. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found 17.2 percent more people developed heavy drinking habits within the short period of time, and most of them were women.

“It seems like women are trying to catch up to the men in binge drinking,” Ali Mokdad, a lead author of the study, told Kaiser Health News. “It’s really, really scary. There are a lot of people still out there needing treatment, but they won’t come in unless they have a consequence like losing a job or [getting] a DUI. They think they have control over it.”

Binge drinking is typically measured four drinks per two hours for a woman and five for men. According to the researchers' findings, women's binge drinking rates increased by 36 percent, while men's increased by 23 percent. A man is more likely to drink a woman under the table, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of gender specific body structures and chemistries, women absorb more alcohol at a slower rate. It takes longer to metabolize alcohol and remove it from the body, which is bad news for women trying to catch a buzz.

Drinking contest: If a man and a woman drank the same amount of alcohol and were tested at the same time, the woman would have higher alcohol levels in her blood and experience the alcohol’s effects sooner — plus they'll last longer. A laundry list of dangers follow a woman when she drinks to excess. She's more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners; it also increases risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery.

This isn’t just about being a baby maker, though. Women who don’t plan on having a child now or at any point in their lives run the risk of creating their own problems. Binge drinking broads are at higher risk of developing cirrhosis (liver disease) than men and are more vulnerable to the brain-damaging effects of excessive alcohol use. When it comes to cancer, women are at a higher risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast cancer. With each drink, a woman exclusively increases her risk for breast cancer, according to a study published in Lancet Oncology.

Sexual assault is always a glaring threat to women, but when alcohol is mixed into the equation the risk increases tremendously. One out of every 20 college women are sexually assaulted in America, and if both the attacker and victim have alcohol, the risk of rape runs higher, according to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Alcohol is not to blame, however, but it does increase the risk for women.

Why would so many more women put themselves at risk for diseases and immediate danger? Researchers are still trying to unravel that mystery themselves, because the rate of binge drinking among women has increased more than seven times the rate of men in the past 10 years. Young people are more likely to binge drink, making women in their 20s the highest group at risk for tipping back too many.

Source: Dwyer-Lindgren L, Flaxman AD, Ng M, Hansen GM, Murray CJL, Phil D, and Mokdad AH. Drinking Patterns in US Counties From 2002 to 2012. American Public Health Association. 2015.