May 5, 2008 / 9:40 PM / 10 years ago

Gender gap in alcohol drinking, dependence shrinks

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - There have been marked increases in alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence among U.S. women, particularly among white and Hispanic women born in the U.S. after World War II, new research shows.

“This is particularly disturbing because women with alcohol problems face more severe health-related consequences and possibly more years of life lost than their male counterparts,” researchers write in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Dr. Richard A. Grucza, of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, and colleagues analyzed two national surveys about alcohol use that were conducted 10 years apart in age-matched adults.

Compared with women born between 1944 and 1953, women born between 1954 and 1963 were much more apt to drink alcohol and those who drank had a higher risk of alcohol dependence, the researchers report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“We found that for women born after World War II, there are lower levels of abstaining from alcohol and higher levels of alcohol dependence, even when looking only at women who drank,” Grucza said in a written statement.

This was not the case for men; men born more recently did not have lower levels of abstaining or higher levels of alcohol dependence.

Dr. Shelly F. Greenfield, of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, said this research “adds important information to the accumulating evidence that the gender gap between women and men in the prevalence of alcohol dependence is narrowing.”

The fact that drinking alcohol became more socially acceptable for women throughout the years may be one reason for the up tic in drinking among women, Greenfield noted. “As it was socially more acceptable for women to drink, a greater number of them became drinkers. Because women have a heightened vulnerability to the effects of alcohol ... we may therefore see a concomitant rise in alcohol dependence among those who ever drank.”

Grucza concurs: “Clearly there were many changes in the cultural environment for women born in the 40s, 50s, and 60s compared to women born earlier. Women entered the work force, were more likely to go to college, were less hampered by gender stereotypes, and had more purchasing power. They were freer to engage in a range of behaviors that were culturally or practically off-limits, and these behaviors probably would have included excessive drinking and alcohol problems.”

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, May 2008.

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