Alcoholism on the Rise Among Women

As it becomes more socially acceptable, more women turning to alcohol

Whenever I check Facebook, which is admittedly too often, I’m amazed by the number of friends who are having drinks more than a few times a week. I’m at that age where most of my friends have kids, so I assumed they would do as my parents did and abstain from alcohol pretty much all of the time. After all, there are soccer games to attend, play dates to organize, homework to help with, as well as non-stop chauffeuring. In my family, there was never beer in the fridge or a bottle of wine opened at dinner. And the liquor cabinet, which was strangely well-stocked but always covered in dust, was opened only on holidays (or when I started sneaking nips of scotch in high school).

Is it my imagination that this generation is drinking more often than previous ones? No, it's not, especially amongst the ladies -- binge drinking and alcoholism are on the rise among women, according to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

In a review of 31 studies, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that people born after World War II are more likely to binge drink and develop alcohol-use disorders. And, where alcoholism and problem drinking are concerned, women are also catching up to men in many countries -- particularly those in North America and Europe.

The reasons are not surprising: Alcohol is more widely available than it was back in what we might as well call the "olden days." It’s also more socially acceptable to have a drink or two with dinner, or catch up with friends over an after-work cocktail (or three). Besides, women get out a lot more than they used to and are not expected to be the prim and proper moms of the June Cleaver era. Simply, there are more opportunities for women to get soused than there ever were before.

Researchers discovered that the youngest population group (though they didn't identify the age range) was at the greatest risk of frequent heavy drinking. Their households purchased the most alcohol, and they consumed the highest quantity of alcohol -- especially the women. While older people tend to drink more hard alcohol, the younger generations opt more often for beer and wine.

The study concludes that younger women are “increasingly engag[ing] in risky drinking practices.” This, the researchers say, is beginning to challenge the paradigm of alcohol consumption as a male-dominated health issue. With liberation comes independence, and with that comes a whole new set of issues. Just as women are catching up to men in executive positions and salaries, they’re also matching them drink for drink at the bar.

Besides increasing risk for alcoholism, drinking too much can have a negative impact on a woman’s health. Whereas small amounts of alcohol are associated with a smaller risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke, consuming more than the recommended one drink per day actually raises the risks of the conditions. And alcohol is a known carcinogen -- women who drink even one drink a day have a 10 percent greater risk for cancer of the breast, liver, rectum, mouth, throat and esophagus. If you frequently consume more than a drink a day -- one shot of spirits, 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine -- it’s a good idea to cut back. And if you can’t, it might be time to seek help.

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