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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Drinking on the Rise Among U.S. Women

Study Shows Gap Is Narrowing Between Men and Women on How Much Alcohol They Drink
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 15, 2011 -- Problem drinking among women in the U.S. is on the rise, a new study shows.

Women are catching up to men when it comes to how much and how often they drink alcohol. As a result, they are increasingly at risk for developing alcohol problems.

What's more, men and women who were born after World War II are more likely to binge drink and develop alcohol-related disorders.

These are some of the main findings of a review of 31 studies that looked at how birth year and gender affect our drinking behavior. The study will appear in the December 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

What Is Binge Drinking?

"Given that alcoholism among women is increasing, there is a need for specific public health prevention and intervention efforts," study researcher Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, says in a news release. She is a postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City.

These efforts should target heavy drinking and binge drinking in women, she says.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. For men, this may occur after having five or more drinks in two hours. Among women, binge drinking involves four or more drinks in two hours.

The findings mirror what addiction therapist Paul Leslie Hokemeyer, PhD, has seen in his practice at the Caron Treatment Center's New York City office. "This study empirically shows us that drinking trends are impacting women."

The time frame makes complete sense, he says. "After World War II, the role of women changed. More women entered the work force, but they were also expected to be good mothers and wives."

Many women may have turned to alcohol to help them cope with the pressure. "They have latched hold of alcohol as a coping mechanism because it is readily available and socially acceptable," Hokemeyer tells WebMD.

The Role of Stress

There are other reasons for the narrowing of the gender gap. Today, many women hold jobs in professions that were once male-dominated, such as banking. Women are competing with men on Wall Street. Their male colleagues go out and drink on a regular basis, and some women may feel they have to also, Hokemeyer says.

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