Aims: This paper examines the prevalence of alcohol use, alcohol-related problems and onset of regular alcohol use, including its association with the prevalence of CAGE symptoms.
Design and participants: Data come from three nationally representative samples of the non-institutionalized German general population aged 18-59 years which were conducted annually between 1994 and 1996. Subjects (n = 7501) were surveyed through telephone interviews.
Findings: Overall, men were more likely to drink alcohol, to be heavier drinkers and to experience more alcohol problems than women. Prevalence of 12-month use was constant across age among males, but decreased with age among women. Prevalence of heavier drinking, however, increased with age in both sexes. While for both sexes the median age of onset decreased towards younger cohorts, the prevalence of regular use at younger ages increased more strongly among females compared to males. In all cohorts of both sexes, an association between early age of onset and negative consequences measured by the CAGE questionnaire could be observed. Odds ratios were significantly lower for life-time experience of at least two CAGE symptoms among respondents if they had started regular alcohol use later than their peers.
Conclusions: The results indicate a narrowing of the gender gap due to an increasing prevalence of regular alcohol use for females across cohorts. Gender differences with regard to heavier drinking are still prominent. The findings confirm those of related studies in which early age of onset of regular alcohol use was found to be a significant predictor for life-time alcohol-related problems.