Converging Patterns of Alcohol Use and Related Outcomes Among Females and Males in the United States, 2002 to 2012

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2015 Sep;39(9):1712-26. doi: 10.1111/acer.12815.


Background: Females in the United States consume less alcohol and cause and experience fewer alcohol-related harms than males. However, recent research suggests such gaps might be narrowing. The purpose of this study was to explore changes in alcohol use and associated outcomes among females and males in the United States between 2002 and 2012.

Methods: Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health were used to assess the prevalence and trends for females and males aged 12+ in lifetime abstinence, age of onset, current drinking, binge drinking, drinking and driving, reaching DSM-IV criteria for an alcohol use disorder, combining alcohol with other drugs such as marijuana, and other variables. Of particular interest was whether differences between females and males narrowed during the decade under study.

Results: Differences in the drinking patterns of females and males aged 12+ narrowed between 2002 and 2012 for current drinking, number of drinking days per month, past year DSM-IV alcohol abuse, and past-year driving under the influence of alcohol. In addition, convergence was noted in 1 or more age subgroups for the prevalence of binge drinking and DSM-IV alcohol dependence and mean age at drinking onset. Divergence in drinking habits did not occur for any measure in any age subgroups with the exception of a greater increase in the prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana among young adult male drinkers than female drinkers aged 18 to 25.

Conclusions: Between 2002 and 2012, differences in alcohol consumption and related outcomes narrowed for females and males. Reasons for converging patterns of alcohol use are unclear and do not appear to be easily explainable by recent trends in employment status, pregnancy status, or marital status. More research is needed to identify the psychosocial and environmental contributors to these changes and to assess implications for prevention and treatment efforts.

Keywords: Age of Onset; Binge Drinking; College Drinking; Drinking and Driving; Gender Gap; Marijuana; Sex Differences; Trend.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Automobile Driving
  • Child
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration / trends*
  • Young Adult