The Gender Gap in Drinking Habits is Narrowing

According to conventional wisdom, women drink less than men overall and therefore have fewer alcohol-related problems than men. But recent research published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research shows that the gender gap associated with drinking habits is narrowing.

More Women Are Drinking More Alcohol

According to the study, between 2002 and 2012, the number of women who drank in the prior month increased from 45 to 48 percent, while it decreased from 57.4 to 56 percent for men. The study also found that women are now drinking more alcohol than they did in the past. The number of days each month that women drank increased from 6.8 days to 7.3 days, while it decreased from 9.9 days a month to 9.5 days for men.

Increases were also noted for women's past-year alcohol abuse and past-year driving under the influence. Additionally, women binge-drank more and men binge-drank less. In 2012, the age at which women began drinking was lower than it was in 2002, while men's age of onset of drinking was higher than before.

Why Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men

Although men are still more likely to drink alcohol than women, and they drink more beverages in one sitting, women are more adversely affected by alcohol than men. This is largely due to differences in body chemistry and structure between women and men.

Alcohol is dispersed through water in the body. Since women weigh less than men on average and have less water in their bodies, when women and men drink the same amount of alcohol, women's bodies absorb more alcohol than men's. It also takes women longer to metabolize alcohol, and they're affected by it more quickly. Ultimately, these differences increase women's risk of experiencing negative health effects as a result of drinking habits.

The Impact of Drinking on Women's Health

Although women who are addicted to alcohol consume 60 percent less of it than men, the rates of cardiomyopathy and myopathy are roughly the same in men and women, indicating that women are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than men.

Because women's brains and organs are exposed to more of the toxic byproducts of alcohol than men's, they're more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis, die from cirrhosis, lose mental function and develop cancer and heart disease as the result of heavy drinking. But it's not just alcohol-related disease that puts women at risk when drinking. Heavy drinking also puts women at a higher risk of suicide.

The Bottom Line

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one drink a day for women. If you feel you have an alcohol abuse problem or believe you may be addicted or dependent on alcohol, the earlier you seek help, the lower your risk of developing health problems from drinking habits.

Willpower alone is very rarely enough to help you quit drinking. Professional treatment through a high-quality, holistic program that draws on research-based treatments and best-practices protocol will help you delve into the complex issues behind the alcohol abuse to help you live addiction-free for the long-term. In overcoming a substance use disorder, you'll vastly improve the quality of—and regain control over—your life.

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