Women now drink as much alcohol as men – and are more likely to get sick
Victoria Cooper thinks her drinking habits in college are the same as others. Shots at the party. Drink beer while playing bowling. Of course, she got more supplements and missed classes when nursing a hangover than some people, but she had no problems, she thought.
“Because of my impression of alcoholism-the old man in the brown bag in the parking lot-I think I am fine,” said Cooper, now sober and living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
More than a decade ago, when Cooper was still in college, this common image of alcohol disorders was echoed in popular culture. Today, its representativeness is even worse.
For nearly a century, women have been Bridging the gender gap In terms of drinking, alcoholism and alcohol use disorders. The ratio of men to women’s dangerous drinking habits was 3-1 Closer to 1 to 1 Globally, analysis of multiple studies in 2016 shows.
The latest U.S. data in 2019 shows that women in their teens and early 20s Report drinking with Got drunk The rate is higher than that of male peers—in some cases, this is the first time since researchers started measuring such behaviors.
This trend is similar to the increase in mental health problems among young women, and researchers worry that the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may magnify these two patterns.
Dawn Sugarman, a psychologist who studies female addiction at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, said: “Not only have we seen women drink more alcohol, but their physical and mental health has indeed been affected.”
Studies have shown that women suffer the health consequences of alcohol—liver disease, heart disease, and cancer—more quickly than men—even when they drink less.
Sugarman said that perhaps the most worrying thing is that the increasing gender equality in alcohol use does not extend to the identification or treatment of alcohol disorders. Therefore, even if some women drink more, they are generally less likely to get the help they need.
In Cooper’s case, alcoholism eventually caused her to drop out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She moved back home and soon would drink one or two glasses of vodka every morning, then go to the office to do financial work, and then drink two glasses at lunch.
When she tried to quit smoking by herself, she was quickly pulled back by the disease.
“That was when I was scared. I tried not to drink, but only drank it for two days,” said Cooper, now 30. “Basically, I drink to survive.”
Cope with drinking
Although the gender gap in alcohol consumption among all age groups is narrowing, the reasons are different. For people over the age of 26, women’s drinking has increased faster than men’s. However, among adolescents and young adults, alcohol consumption has generally declined. Women’s decline has been even slower.
Aaron White, senior scientific adviser at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said this sounds like progress. But it may indicate a larger potential problem.
White said: “What we are really worried about is that although the number of people who drink may be reduced, many people who drink may be doing this specifically in response to this situation.” “This is problematic.”
Studies have shown that drinking to cope—not to drink for pleasure—is at a higher risk of alcohol use disorder.Although everyone has different reasons for drinking, studies have found that women are more likely to Cope with drinking Than men.
She said that during Cooper’s teenage years, alcohol helped her overcome social anxiety. Then she was sexually assaulted, and a new model emerged. Drink alcohol to deal with trauma. Experience new traumas while drinking. repeat. “It’s hard to get out of the cycle of shame, alcoholism, and abuse,” Cooper said.
From statistical data, women are more likely to suffer childhood abuse or sexual assault than men.In recent years, research has found Frustrated, anxiety, Eating disorder with suicide It is climbing among teenagers and young adult women. White said this may cause them to drink too much.
The layers of pressure, isolation and trauma caused by COVID-19 may make things worse.
A study studying the effects of alcohol on college students in the early stages of the pandemic found Increased drinking Among those who reported higher levels of stress and anxiety.Several studies have found that women are More likely to report Alcohol consumption increases during the pandemic, especially if they experience greater stress.
“For us to solve the alcohol problem, we also need to address these widespread mental health problems,” White said. “They are all related.”
When Gillian Tietz started drinking in graduate school, she found that a glass of wine helped relieve stress. However, as soon as the cup emptied, her worries worsened. Within a year, she started drinking every day. She said that anxiety kept her awake all night and began to have suicidal thoughts.
She didn’t notice the connection until Tietz eased briefly from the alcohol. Suddenly, the thought of suicide stopped abruptly.
“This makes the decision to quit very powerful,” said 30-year-old Tietz, who now hosts a project called Sober motivation“I know exactly what alcohol did to me.”
Rising risks: from hangovers to cancer
Until the 1990s, most research on alcohol Focus on menNow, as women tend to be equal in their drinking habits, scientists are learning more about the unequal damage that alcohol causes to their bodies.
Women generally have Low body water, It dissolves alcohol more than men of the same weight. This means that the same amount of beverages will result in a higher concentration of alcohol in the blood, and their body tissues will be exposed to more alcohol each time they drink.
result? Sugarman of McLean Hospital said: “As the number of years of drinking has decreased, women’s illnesses are getting worse at a faster rate.”
They are at greater risk of hangovers, power outages, liver disease, cardiovascular disease caused by alcohol, and certain cancers.A study found that from 2006 to 2014, the number of emergency room visits related to alcohol 70% increase in women, And 58% of men.Another paper reports the increase in the incidence of alcohol-related cirrhosis Female 50%, While the male rate is 30%, from 2009 to 2015.
However, when it comes to the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related health problems, “this message is not really communicated there,” Sugarman said.
As part of a study, Sugarman and her colleagues provided women with information about the effects of alcohol on women different from men. Sugarman said that some participants had detoxified 20 times but had never heard of the information.
Research by Sugarman’s colleagues found that women with alcohol use disorder Have better results When they are in a female-only treatment group, this includes attention to mental health and trauma, as well as education about gender-specific factors of addiction.
For Cooper, participating in a 90-day hospitalization program in 2018 completely changed her perception of who is affected by addiction. She found that she was surrounded by women in their 20s who also struggled with alcohol and other drugs. “This is the first time I feel lonely in a long time,” she said.
In 2019, she returned to UNC-Chapel Hill and completed a degree in women and gender studies, and even completed a capstone project on the links between sexual violence, trauma, and addiction.
She said that although the 12-step plan has helped Cooper stay awake for 3.5 years, one drawback of these efforts is that they are usually dominated by men. Literature written by men. Recommendations for men. About the example of men.
Cooper plans to return to school this fall to study for a master’s degree in social work, with the goal of working to change this situation.