Alcohol Misuse—A Growing Health Concern for Women

Drunk Women

Empirical data has shown that alcohol addiction is more likely to develop in men than in women. However, that trend is changing and has been since the roaring 20s when women began inserting themselves into the speakeasies and bars. In fact, in the 85 years since the end of Prohibition, alcohol misuse statistics have almost completely converged between men and women.

The gap is closing, and alcohol addiction is beginning to affect men and women in similar numbers.

We have a real problem on our hands—women tend to develop a drinking problem more quickly and are more at risk for alcohol-related health problems.

What are the alcohol-related risks for women? And what can be done to address this problem for both men and women?

Reported Trends of Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 14 million Americans over the age of 12 meet the criteria for alcohol addiction. That number represents about 9 million men and 5.5 million women.

Currently, there are more men addicted to alcohol than women. However, the gap between the two is receding and has been for some time. The first place we see this evidenced is in adolescents. NIAAA reports that of those addicted to alcohol between ages 12 and 17 in the United States, about 251,000 are girls, compared to only 163,000 boys.

A Look at the New Data

The journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews dedicated its November 2020 issue to studying the rising prevalence of alcohol misuse among women. Historically, alcohol misuse affected men far more than women, with a significant majority of alcohol poisonings, traffic accidents, and treatment center admissions being among men. However, that is now changing, with concerning predictions for future health outcomes among women if we don’t do something about this public health crisis.

According to that report, women are the fastest-growing segment of alcohol consumers in the United States. The surge in alcohol misuse among women presents a long list of potential health problems.

In many ways, this has been a growing public health issue for some time, though it has only recently come under the national spotlight. True, males still outpace females in most alcohol-related measures, but possibly not for long.

Let’s examine some statistical history of female drinking:

For individuals born in 1900, males outnumbered females almost 3:1 for alcohol addiction and alcohol consumption measures. That number escalated during Prohibition, and today, the ratio is nearly 1:1. Quoting the study authors, “An analysis of six different national surveys between 2000 and 2016 suggests that the number of women age 18 and older who drink each year increased by 6% but decreased by 0.2% for men, and the number of women who binge drink increased by 14% but by only 0.5% for men. Gender gaps are narrowing for different reasons among adolescents and emerging adults relative to adults.”

  “An analysis of six different national surveys between 2000 and 2016 suggests that the number of women age 18 and older who drink each year increased by 6% but decreased by 0.2% for men...”  

The study data corroborates the NIAAA data, indicating that young women are experiencing alcohol misuse episodes at increasing rates. In contrast, the rise in male alcohol misuse has more or less leveled out.

A more significant number of men still die more often from alcohol misuse than women. Men still get in more alcohol-related accidents and still suffer more alcohol-related cirrhosis cases. However, the gaps in drinking patterns, alcohol addiction, hospitalization, ER visits, DUIs, liver disease, alcohol-related cancer and alcohol-related deaths are shrinking between the two populations.

In the 1990s, survey data showed that about 40% of men admitted to getting drunk at least once per month, compared to only about 25% of women admitting the same. But by 2018, that gap was almost identical, with equal percentages of men and women admitting to drinking excessively every month.

The gap is also shrinking for those who meet the criteria for alcohol addiction. About 10% of men met the criteria for alcohol addiction in 2002, compared to 5% of women. By 2018, that gap narrowed to almost identical percentages for both men and women.

Patient woman

Not only do these trends bear out for the general population, but the thesis of a closing gap in alcohol misuse among men and women holds true in specific populations, too. For example, the research indicates that alcohol misuse among college students is almost identical among adults ages 18 to 22. In fact, women in that age group are statistically more likely to drink alcohol and to drink to excess than their male peers.

If these trends continue across all age groups and specific populations, it’s pretty likely that alcohol abuse and the resulting harmful effects will be just as destructive and just as prevalent among women than among men.

Potential Risk Factors to Health and Wellbeing

Women face serious health risks when they misuse alcohol. In fact, in some ways, they are more at risk for adverse health outcomes. Again, quoting the study authors referenced earlier: “Although women tend to drink less than men, a risk-severity paradox occurs wherein women suffer greater harms than men at lower levels of alcohol exposure. Despite drinking less often and less heavily than males, roughly similar percentages of female and male drinkers in college report having experienced at least one alcohol-induced memory blackout in the past 2 weeks (10% females, 9% males), in the past 6 months (22% females, 17% males), and in the past year (29.2% females, 28.8% males).”

The data shows that women tend to have a faster progression and worsening alcohol misuse than men. They are at greater risk for hangovers, liver inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.

From driving under the influence to committing harm to others, from cognitive dysfunction to memory loss, women do not need to consume as much alcohol as men to experience these varying types of injury and harm.

Alcohol-Related Death—A Growing Concern for Women

The worst possible effect of alcohol misuse is death. And in this area, too, women are catching up to men. While alcohol-related deaths have increased for both men and women in recent years, they are growing more quickly for women than men. Between 2014 and 2018, emergency department visits for alcohol poisoning among men increased by 58%, whereas those same visits increased 70% for women.

As for deaths, these numbers are also, sadly, increasing. From 1999 to 2017, there were almost one million deaths in the United States from alcohol-related causes. While males accounted for about 76% of these deaths overall, the increase in alcohol-related deaths was much steeper for women. From 1999 to 2017, alcohol-related death increased by 93% for men. But deaths spiked 136% for women.

Addiction Treatment—The Way Out of Alcohol Addiction

Woman addict getting help

Alcohol addiction is harmful to those afflicted and everyone around them, but the good news is that there are legitimate alcohol addiction treatments. No one need stay addicted to alcohol forever.

For those addicted to alcohol, women and men alike, Narconon offers a clear pathway to freedom from addiction. If there is someone in your life who misuses alcohol, who cannot stop drinking on their own, please do not hesitate to contact Narconon. Please do not wait for them to do any further harm to themselves or those around them.


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AUTHOR

Ren

After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.

NARCONON ARROWHEAD

DRUG EDUCATION AND REHABILITATION