Is There a Recent Epidemic of Women's Drinking? A Critical Review of National Studies

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Jul;43(7):1344-1359. doi: 10.1111/acer.14082. Epub 2019 Jun 5.


Alcohol consumption is increasing in the United States, as is alcohol-attributable mortality. Historically, men have had higher rates of alcohol consumption than women, though evidence for birth cohort effects on gender differences in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm suggests that gender differences may be diminishing. We review studies using U.S. national data that examined time trends in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm since 2008. Utilizing a historical-developmental perspective, here we synthesize and integrate the literature on birth cohort effects from varying developmental periods (i.e., adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood), with a focus on gender differences in alcohol consumption. Findings suggest that recent trends in gender differences in alcohol outcomes are heterogeneous by developmental stage. Among adolescents and young adults, both males and females are rapidly decreasing alcohol consumption, binge and high-intensity drinking, and alcohol-related outcomes, with gender rates converging because males are decreasing consumption faster than females. This pattern does not hold among adults, however. In middle adulthood, consumption, binge drinking, and alcohol-related harms are increasing, driven largely by increases among women in their 30s and 40s. The trend of increases in consumption that are faster for women than for men appears to continue into older adult years (60 and older) across several studies. We conclude by addressing remaining gaps in the literature and offering directions for future research.

Keywords: Alcohol; Alcohol Use Disorders; Gender; Women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Binge Drinking
  • Child
  • Epidemics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women*
  • Young Adult