New data released from the Partnership for a Drug Free America suggest that not only are girls now drinking more than boys, they turn to drugs and alcohol for more serious reasons as well. The report, which analyzed results from the 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), a survey of teen attitudes and behaviors, shows that the number of middle- and high-school girls who say they drink has increased by 11 percent in the past year, from 53 percent to 59 percent. Boys have stayed at about the same level, hovering around 52 percent.
These numbers are more indicative of a long-term trend than a sudden uptick. In 2005 the rate of girls who had used alcohol in the past year as surveyed by the partnership hit 57 percent, only to fall back to 55 percent in 2007 and 53 percent in 2008. (During that same time, boys continued to fall within a couple of percentage points of 50 percent, but the changes were not statistically significant.)
The Partnership for a Drug Free America results also show that girls are more likely to associate drugs and alcohol with a way to avoid problems and relieve stress. (Boys, on the other hand, show dramatic increases in seeing drugs and alcohol as social lubricants: in 2009 compared with 2008, they were 16 percent more likely to see them as a way to make socializing easier, and 23 percent more likely to label drinking as a necessary ingredient for a party.)
Teen girls are more likely to be attuned to their feelings, says Leslie Walker, M.D., director of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, and therefore may seek alcohol as a way to self-medicate. "Girls tend to be more internalizers with issues that are happening anyway. It makes sense that if they have some stress and things that they are dealing with, they're going to take care of themselves instead of reaching out."