This week we got news that according to science, women now drink just as much as men. Seeing that headline might not mean much to some people, but to me, it’s incredibly alarming. As someone who prided herself on “keeping up with the guys” while drinking, I know that it’s not healthy or good to hear that women are drinking as much as men. Our bodies are built differently and we should not be ingesting that much alcohol ever. Not only that, now women are at an even greater risk for all of the damaging health consequences that come along with drinking alcohol excessively and addiction. The worst part? The researchers believe this is due to cheaper drinks and successful alcohol marketing for women.
What the study said
Historically, alcohol use and its related dangerous outcomes are more prevalent in men than in women. The researchers’ hypothesis said that younger groups of people are changing this trend and that women are much closer to men in alcohol use and its outcomes according to the numbers. Researchers gathered 68 studies that met inclusion criteria and calculated male-to-female ratios for 3 broad categories of alcohol use and effects (any alcohol use, problematic use and alcohol-related harms). They were classified by 5-year birth increments ranging from 1891 to 2001, making 1568 sex ratios. Random-effects meta-analyses created pooled sex ratios within these 3 categories separately for each birth increment. Researchers analyzed the changing ratio of male-to-female drinking over time.
The analysis was published in the journal BMJ Open and outcomes showed that men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol and three times as likely to misuse alcohol or use it to the point of negative consequences. In all three of those factors, men and women became equal among those born between 1991 and 2000.
The researchers believe women’s drinking has increased for several reasons. One is the after-working drinking culture. Many women found it necessary to be a part of the work-related drinking culture in order to succeed. The Guardian reported that figures from 2011 show that women in management and professional jobs drink more than the average woman and consume more alcohol on weekdays. Another reason cited was the decrease in prices for beer and wine. These items have become regular items in grocery stores and at home. This is in addition to an increase in targeted marketing efforts from Big Alcohol to women. Drinking has been on the rise since the 1950’s for women and with the lower prices and specialized marketing to women, it’s not surprising they’re drinking more. Wine is often marketed as “mommy juice” or the drink to have after a long day of work or a long day of childcare. Alcohol is being offered at everything from yoga events and marathons to home-delivery.
Is alcohol as dangerous for men as it is for women?
We’re used to drinking being a man’s game and the ads were always historically geared towards men. But in today’s society women are the target. We are constantly bombarded by low-calorie, brightly-colored liquor, and other gender-stereotyped alcohol ads. We’re told stress can be done away with by a simple sip from the bottle and that skinny girl margaritas will help make us look fabulous. It’s hard to go into any sort of mom and pop gift shop these days and not see the t-shirts and signs that boast “wine-o-clock” and “happy hour.”
Unfortunately, the reality is long-term excessive alcohol use is linked to many health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, seven forms of cancer, and digestive problems. It’s also true that women’s bodies break down alcohol differently than men. This puts women at a greater risk for alcohol-related health problems. In fact, alcohol is responsible for 15 percent of breast cancer cases. David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University says, “We’ve seen a shift in the culture of women’s drinking and there’s a big marketing piece of that.” Jernigan believes that the industry targeted starting in the late 90’s with a new type of liquor he calls “beer with training wheels” for people who don’t like the taste of beer, many of who are young women. He also thinks that if alcohol marketing levels for women get up to the same intensities as men, the results could be detrimental. Simply, the harms will be greater for women than they are for men.
The most notable comment made by one of the researchers of the new study was by Katherine M. Keyes, “The essential thing to highlight is that there is treatment available for anyone suffering with alcohol abuse, both men and women. However, the focus here is women because there seems to be a stigma associated with women who drink and need help, as alcohol consumption is viewed as a male phenomenon.” She wanted to remind women that they are not alone with their alcohol issues and they can reach out for help.
Alcohol use disorder is not just a phenomenon amongst men and that’s one thing this study confirms. Women are using alcohol, they are affected by addiction, and they can recover from it.