Traditionally, men have been higher consumers of alcohol than women; however, a new study by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), released on November 23, has reported that women in the United States are catching up to men in regard to alcohol consumption. The downside of this trend is that, overall, women are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol than women.
A research team led by Aaron White, Ph.D., NIAAA’s senior scientific advisor to the director, notes that in the US, and throughout the globe, men drink more alcohol than women. However, data from yearly national surveys conducted from 2002 through 2012 reveal that the gap between men and women in regard to alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms is narrowing in the US.
Dr. White explained, “We found that over that period of time, differences in measures such as current drinking, number of drinking days per month, reaching criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year, all narrowed for females and males, Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing.”
“This study confirms what other recent reports have suggested about changing patterns of alcohol use by men and women in the U.S.,” said NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D. He added that the evidence of increasing alcohol use by women is particularly concerning because they are at greater risk than men for a variety of alcohol-related health effects, including liver disease, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and cancer.
The researchers found that the percentage of individuals who drank alcohol in the previous 30 days increased for females from 44.9% to 48.3%; however, it decreased among males from 57.4% to 56.1% from 2002 through 2012. Over that decade, the average number of drinking days in the past month also increased for females, from 6.8 to 7.3 days; however, it decreased slightly for males, from 9.9 to 9.5 days. During the study period, binge drinking by 18 to 25-year-old college students did not change; however, among 18 to 25-year-olds not in college, there was a significant increase n binge drinking among females and a significant decrease among males; thus, effectively narrowing the gender gap in binge drinking in this age group.
Dr. White notes that there was only one area, for any age group, fin which the male-female drinking difference actually increased during the study period. He explained, “The prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana during the last drinking occasion among 18 to 25-year-old male drinkers increased from 15% to 19%., while the prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana during the last drinking occasion among 18 to 25-year-old female drinkers remained steady at about 10%.”
The reason for the rise in alcohol consumption could not be determined and did not appear to be easily explained by recent trends in employment, pregnancy, or marital status because their analyses controlled for these variables. The authors suggest that additional studies are needed to identify the psychosocial and environmental contributors to these changes and to evaluate their implications for prevention and treatment efforts.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a component of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary US agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences.