Women are Drinking More – and Dying More from It?

More young women are dying from excessive alcohol consumption in England and Scotland at a time when both countries are seeing a decline in such deaths among the general population. Sally Marlow of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London tells the BBC that these findings could be the first indicator of a “ticking time bomb” of alcohol problems in women born in the 1970s.

It goes without saying that such a finding is “worrying.” Marlow suggests that the “ladette” culture of the 1970s in which women could be “very out there, embracing male behaviours – one of which was excessive drinking” could be a factor in why, in Glasgow, “notable numbers” of women born between 1970 and 1979 were found to have died from alcohol-related causes at a much earlier age than women who had been born in the 1960s. Deborah Shipton, one of the authors of the study, also suggests that cheaper alcohol has played a part, along with “better marketing and longer drinking hours.”

The researchers studied men and women of all ages in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester from 1980 to 2011, but their findings resonate across the Atlantic. For the past few years, I’ve taught classes on Friday morning (at a small university in New Jersey) and routinely found myself facing rows of bleary-eyed students. It’s open knowledge that Thursday, if not Wednesday, is when the weekend, and the partying, starts.

It’s not news that college students drink and binge drink. But as a teacher seeing the effects of all this on young women and men in the classroom, and as a 40-something-ish mother born just before the cut-off date for the  British researchers’ study, I’ve wondered if the habits learned in college could carry over to students’ later lives.

Older Women Binge Drink, Too

Binge drinking — four or more drinks for women, five or more for men within two hours — is not just for co-eds on Spring Break, as Gabriel Glaser recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. As a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found, among women in the U.S., 24 percent of those who did so are college-age but ten percent are women between 45 and 64 and three percent are women older than 65.

Glaser suggests that more women in the U.S. are drinking than ever:

In the nine years between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for drunken driving rose 30 percent, while male arrests dropped more than 7 percent. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of young women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52 percent. The rate for young men, though higher, rose just 9 percent.

Moreover, a Gallup poll has found that “the more educated and well off a woman is, the more likely she is to imbibe.” The “drinking mom” has become what Glaser calls a “cultural trope” (e.g., some members of the cast of “Real Housewives” have introduced their own wine labels) but it is one based on realities. I wasn’t surprised to learn that there are nearly 650,000 women following “Moms Who Need Wine” on Facebook. I’ve read many a status update or or tweet in which a friend (after a long day of work, childcare, fighting insurance companies to get medical procedures for children with disabilities covered while struggling to care for children with complex needs) has mentioned the same.

More and Better Treatment Options for Drinking Problems in Women Needed

As Marlow implies and Glaser notes, rising rates of alcohol consumption in women are, in one sense, a “sign of parity.” But women need to keep in mind that their bodies process alcohol differently than’s men’s. Women, due to having more fat and less water, retain alcohol more. As a result, a woman can become intoxicated more quickly than a man even when drinking the same amount of alcohol.

Another real concern is that treatment methods developed specifically for women with drinking problems are still lacking. Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program has been “embraced by the nation’s courts, much of the medical establishment, insurance companies and popular culture as a one-size-fits-all approach to harmful drinking.” AA meetings, though, which require members to submit to a “higher power,” refrain from all drinking and “tame their egos,” are not, says Glaser, well-suited to women.

Women may have started drinking excessively in the first place due to higher rates of anxiety and depression; to having to make their way climbing the career ladder and “fit in.” Glaser describes other treatment options that may include personal counseling and medicine that may be more suited to women’s needs and, therefore, more effective.

A very dear friend of my husband’s died last month from alcohol-related causes. He was not the first we have known who drank excessively as a young person, only to suffer from the effects in adulthood. His partner, who is a few years younger than me, has said that she has given up alcohol entirely.

Photo from Thinkstock

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Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck2 years ago

Sadly it doesnt surprise me at all. Thanks for sharing!

Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Know when to stop

Kenneth Anderson
Kenneth Anderson2 years ago

Although AA does a wonderful job of self promotion by parading testimonials in front of people, scientific studies show that people are just as likely to overcome alcohol dependence on their own as by going to AA. Testimonials are snake oil.

Gysele van Santen

i gave up drinking in my late 20's. from time to time i like to put something in the air & all it does it give me the munchies. drinking alcohol is not for me.

Dee H.
Daphne H.2 years ago

Well, maybe we should be asking what causes women to drink more? It's NOT just for fun or being irresponsible. If the men folk were taking care of their responsibilities perhaps the women wouldn't feel so stressed.

Andy Walker
Andy Walker2 years ago

Another Calvinistic article about bevvy.

Margarita G.
Margarita G.2 years ago

Thanks for posting!

Ron B.
Ron B.2 years ago

Not surprising. The on-going decline of human civilization world-wide is obviously having an effect on the majority of people. And I could see this adversely affecting women in general even more than men.

Trinity L.
T L.2 years ago

This doesn't surprise me. Look at the world we live in. People working more hours for less financial stability, the break down of real connections and community, the devastation of our environment, the sickness of our society, et cetera. Of course more individuals are self medicating in any way they can.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson2 years ago