A global study analyzed the consumption habits of more than 4 million people for 10 years and found that women have caught up with men in alcohol consumption, which is causing increasing damage to their health.
According to the study’s authors, younger women may even be out-drinking men, likely due to price cuts and the marketing campaigns of sweeter alcoholic drinks that are targeted directly at young women.
Researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia, have concluded that public health efforts will need to focus more on women, saying: “These results have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programs. Alcohol and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms.”
Since when have women caught up?
Historical data shows that men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as women to drink alcohol and 300% more likely to abuse it.
The results of 68 international studies between 1891 and 2014 were analyzed to look at the changing ratio between male and female alcohol consumption, which found that women have been catching up with men since 1991: parity was reached by the year 2000.
These findings have been published in the BMJ Open journal.
What’s the difference between men and women consuming alcohol?
Women’s bodies have a higher fat to water ratio, which means that they cannot tolerate alcohol as well as men.
Less water in their system makes alcohol much more concentrated, which can cause damage to vital organs. Additionally, women physically have smaller livers than men, which makes it much more challenging for them to process alcohol safely.
Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, says: “Drinking too much, too often, can store up future health problems, both mental and physical, with people not realizing just how easy it is to go over recommended limits.”
Why are women drinking more?
Many women have succeeded in obtaining jobs that were previously reserved for men, which has led them to become part of the after-work drinking culture, particularly in the UK.
2011 figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that women in management and professional jobs drank more on average than other women and were also found to drink more throughout the week.
Davis says that drinking at home has also continued to increase because alcohol is so cheap and readily available in supermarkets that it’s become an everyday grocery item.
“We know from our annual Dry January campaign that people often don’t realize that alcohol has become a habit rather than a pleasure, with women having ‘wine o’clock’ most nights of the week. There’s also been a concerted effort from the alcohol industry to market products and brands specifically to women,” she said.
How much is too much?
Sally Davis, the chief medical officer in England, advises that both men and women risked harm to their health if they exceeded 14 units per which. This limit was reduced from 21 to 14 units for men, but Davis warns that there is no real safe limit for anyone.
“This is why we need mandatory health warnings on alcohol products and a mass media campaign to make sure that our guidelines are widely known and understood,” she said.