Sex and gender-related differences in alcohol use and its consequences: Contemporary knowledge and future research considerations

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015 Nov 1:156:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.08.023. Epub 2015 Sep 5.


Aims: To review the contemporary evidence reflecting male/female differences in alcohol use and its consequences along with the biological (sex-related) and psycho-socio-cultural (gender-related) factors associated with those differences.

Methods: MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science, SCOPUS, PsycINFO, and CINAHL databases were searched for relevant publications, which were subsequently screened for the presence/absence of pre-specified criteria for high quality evidence.

Results: Compared to men, more women are lifetime abstainers, drink less, and are less likely to engage in problem drinking, develop alcohol-related disorders or alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, women drinking excessively develop more medical problems. Biological (sex-related) factors, including differences in alcohol pharmacokinetics as well as its effect on brain function and the levels of sex hormones may contribute to some of those differences. In addition, differences in alcohol effects on behavior may also be driven by psycho-socio-cultural (gender-related) factors. This is evident by variation in the magnitude of differences in alcohol use between countries, decreasing difference in the rates of alcohol consumption in recent generations and other findings. Evidence indicates that both sex and gender-related factors are interacting with alcohol use in complex manner, which differentially impacts the risk for development of the behavioral or medical problems and alcohol use disorders in men and women.

Conclusions: Discovery of the mechanisms underlying biological (sex-related) as well as psycho-socio-cultural (gender-related) differences in alcohol use and related disorders is needed for development of personalized recommendations for prevention and treatment of alcohol use disorders and related problems in men and women.

Keywords: Alcohol drinking; Alcoholism; Female; Male; Men; Women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacokinetics
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Factors


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol