Women are going places where few of them have ever been. Places like: DUI court, jail and prison.
Men still account for the overwhelming majority of drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. However, the percentage of female DUI arrests has increased rapidly in the last two decades.
There are several reasons women are being slung into drunk tanks in increasing numbers.
• Women are both drinking and driving more than before. Changing lifestyles put women behind the wheel more than ever.
• This ain’t your mom’s DUI. Cops’ attitudes toward women have changed over the past generation. Once, officers worried about a woman getting home safely - not her BAC (blood alcohol content).
• Women once caught breaks in DUI arrests. Today, they may be victims of gender discrimination. The standard breath test is designed for men. Women weigh less, have a higher fat-to-muscle ratio and their bodies contain less water to dilute alcohol consumed. Men have a greater lung capacity, metabolize alcohol more rapidly and blow lower breathalyzer readings.
Women metabolize alcohol more slowly. They do not do as well in breathalyzer or touch-your-nose or walk-a-straight-line sobriety tests.
A woman’s menstrual cycle, with its load of hormones, can boost a woman’s BAC. Menopause can raise a woman’s temperature and her BAC reading.
New style feminine alcohol abuse starts young. New studies consistently show a surge in youthful dipsomania. Thirty-nine percent of college-age women engage in binge drinking – an increase of 30 percent since 1979.
The number of women busted for DUI jumped 28 percent in the last 10 years of the 20th century while the number of men dropped 7.5 percent in the same period, according to FBI figures.
Youths who start drinking younger have a greater chance of becoming binge drinkers. Middle school girls become regular drinkers in greater numbers and at a lower age today. So it often begins.
Young women who drink in high school are more apt to get pregnant before graduation. Young mothers, especially alcoholic young mothers, face a new vulnerability. Driving drunk with a child in the car is a felony in most states. A young man who catches a buzz and gets behind the wheel of a car is apt to go to jail. A young woman drinks and drives risks going to prison and losing custody of children riding in the car.
May was a woman born too late - just barely. On a Friday afternoon in the 1950s, she and small knot of female retail clerks gathered at an Minneapolis bar and grill to celebrate the weekend’s arrival. The party ended in time for three of the women to catch a train. A boyfriend picked up a fourth.
May drove away in the car her uncle had loaned her. In the next 30 minutes May made history. Rounding a corner, she clipped an oncoming taxi. A cop arrived and issued May a DUI ticket - the first ever received by a woman in that state.
It was illegal for women to drive drunk in Minnesota before May was pinched. Cops simply had not started arresting them.
Women with drinking problems - usually closet drunks - had nowhere to turn when May fell into the bottle. Doctors knew little about treating alcoholism. The clergy knew even less, though many priests and pastors were among the afflicted.
Early Alcoholics Anonymous was a men’s-only club in Akron, Ohio.
An alcoholic woman from Milwaukee, Wis., appeared one day, attended a few meetings as a guest, and declared her decision move to Akron and become a permanent member.
Akron men mumbled and stuttered. Most thought admitting the Wisconsin woman was a dreadful idea. Old timers say they were afraid of their wives’ reaction to a woman’s invasion of bastion. One member offered a solution. The others applauded. The woman agreed. She would return to Milwaukee and start an AA club there.
Margie started drinking at 13, not unusual for the current generation. She had three children and three DUIs at 24. Social services rounded up her brood and the judge sent her to prison. Her lawyer said she could get her children back and “get off paper,” (out from under control of the Department of Corrections) if she kept a spotless record for five years.
A dirty UA (urine analysis) earned her two more years “on paper,” reporting regularly to her parole officer and subjected to surprise UA’s.
Men still receive most DUIs but women are gaining rapidly – as much as 10 percent per year in some states.