As of 2014, there were more than 130 million people in the U.S. who consumed alcohol on a regular basis. And while alcoholism is one of the most common addictions in our society, it’s one that’s often associated with the male gender. But recent studies are putting that stereotype to the test, as they’ve found that women are becoming increasingly more likely to develop an alcohol dependency.
New data shows that the drinking gap between men and women is a thing of the past. Australian researchers recently released an analysis of 68 alcohol-related studies that span over the past century. Although earlier data shows that men born in the early part of the 20th century were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol and three times as likely to have an alcohol dependency in comparison to women, that disparity decreased significantly towards the end of the millennium.
In fact, by the end of the 20th century, men and women were statistically just as likely to consume alcohol, and the ratio of male alcoholics to female alcoholics was 1.2 to 1.
This data is backed up by more modern studies, like one conducted in 2015 that showed the further narrowing of the gender drinking gap between 2002 to 2012. While the study’s authors don’t scientifically explain the cause of this phenomenon, experts do have some ideas.
For one thing, it’s now totally acceptable — and even encouraged — for women to enjoy social activities outside the home, many of which involve alcohol consumption. Drinking has also been normalized in female-centric television shows and in other mainstream media. Women are also more prone to reporting struggles with anxiety and depression than men.
Adding to these complications is that, although women are drinking just as much as men are, the use of alcohol its effects tend to escalate more quickly in women.
And while short term use will impact a woman’s ability to function at a faster rate, long term abuse has even more dire consequences for females: namely, women who drink to excess are more likely to develop heart problems and breast cancer, among other conditions. Around 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and many women go to great lengths to reduce their breast cancer risk. But they might not realize that limiting their alcohol intake could be one of the smartest health decisions they can make.
Fortunately, recent changes have been made to help individuals recognize a substance abuse problem. The American Psychiatric Association made some updates to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, including its categorization of drug and alcohol use. Previously, the manual split related issues into one of two categories, abuse and dependence, but now the DSM-5 has put these issues on a spectrum. The spectrum is based on 11 symptom-related questions. If an individual possesses at least two out of the 11 symptoms, that indicates a substance disorder; if they display six or more, the problem is severe.
The new questions can be found on the NIAAA website.
Ultimately, the pressures women face on a daily basis may drive them to drink, but a keen awareness of this issue — and ongoing education to break gender-driven stigmas regarding substance abuse — may go a long way in breaking the cycle.