MONIQUE STEGER said she is more likely to stand out in a crowd for being sober than for getting drunk and making a fool of herself. At 24, she barely drinks, which she says makes some social situations tough.
''When I used to drink I wasn't unlike any other person, most young people would drink to get drunk so you just fit in with everyone around you,'' she said. ''If I go to pubs now, I sit there sober and get looked at. It's hard to fit in.''
Ms Steger gave up drinking when she found out she was pregnant about three years ago, and is now a personal trainer and ''in the best shape of my life''.
But research released on Wednesday shows young women are now abusing alcohol at levels similar to men. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW found while women born between 1953 and 1962 had their first alcoholic drink on average at age 17 - two years later than men - adolescents of both sexes now typically have their first drink at 14.
In the decade to 2007, the number of young female Australians diagnosed with symptoms of alcohol abuse increased by 27,000.
Leader of the research Maree Teesson, said the "catch up" to men was concerning, with women also less likely than men to seek help for drinking.
Professor Teesson is a senior research fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and director of the National Medical Health and Research Council Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use.
''Younger Australians are seeking treatment sooner than previous generations, but young men are more likely to seek treatment than younger women," she said.
The council recommends both men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on average per day.
But the chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Michael Thorn, said nothing was being done to target women drinking to excess.
''I think the increase in drinking levels among women has occurred partly through the equal opportunity movement in our society but it's also the way alcohol is promoted as a social norm,'' he said.
Women tend to weigh less than men, he said, and generally got drunk more easily, become addicted sooner and develop alcohol-related problems.
The foundation's poll of more than 1000 people last year found nearly 28 per cent of women aged 18 to 19 reported drinking more than four standard drinks in one session at least once a month, compared with 24 per cent of men the same age.
A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health this week found students who were compulsive drinkers were four times as likely to have had sex they later regretted.
''Young people are at much greater risk of harm when they drink, but when everyone drinks in this way it appears normal to them,'' Mr Thorn said.
''This message is being reinforced … through parents drinking, the actions of their peers and the messages they're getting about alcohol through advertising.''
Corrections: The original article said that Maree Teesson is the director of the National Medical Health and Research Council. It also said the council recommends men drink no more than four standard drinks on average per day. This was based on the council's original guidelines, which were revised in 2009.