Among Women, Hard Drinking Is More Frequent: The Trend toward Increased Intoxication Is Holding True among All Age Groups. (22-Year Ongoing Study)

By Jancin, Bruce | Clinical Psychiatry News, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Among Women, Hard Drinking Is More Frequent: The Trend toward Increased Intoxication Is Holding True among All Age Groups. (22-Year Ongoing Study)


Jancin, Bruce, Clinical Psychiatry News


COLORADO SPRINGS--American women of all ages are getting drunk more often.

This was one of several unexpected findings of a groundbreaking 22-year ongoing longitudinal study of women and alcohol.

The National Institutes of Health--sponsored National Study of Health and Life Experiences of Women has involved detailed study of more than 1,000 women evaluated every 5 years since 1981, with periodic infusion of hundreds more 21- to 30-year-olds in order to keep abreast of trends in the youngest and hardest-drinking segment of the female population, Sharon C. Wilsnack, Ph.D., explained at a symposium on addictive disorders sponsored by Psychotherapy Associates.

A "fascinating" new observation is that self-reported frequency of intoxication has consistently gone up in srepwise fashion from 1981 through 2001 within every age group. In contrast, the frequency of heavy episodic or binge drinking--defined as six or more drinks in a day--has remained steady over time, added Dr. Wilsnack, co-principal investigator of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

At any point during the last 2 decades, the frequencies of both binge drinking and intoxication were far and away greatest among women aged 21-30.

But the trend for increased intoxication in more recent years applies within all age groups. One possible explanation is that in more recent times women feel freer to admit to intoxication, but Dr. Wilsnack favors an alternative theory.

"I think what might be going on is that women may be drinking the same amount but in different ways, perhaps more to actually get drunk," the psychologist commented.

Before this NIH-funded longitudinal study, there was essentially no scientific literature on alcohol consumption in women.

Virtually all studies had been restricted to men. The women's longitudinal study focuses upon the general population.

It's an observational study; those few participants with alcohol-related problems who've received treatment did so on their own.

The study has examined roughly 200 separate potential predictive variables for drinking-related problems. Among the highlights:

* Alcohol and sexual dysfunction. There is a highly prevalent belief that alcohol makes women feel less sexually inhibited. Women who subscribed to this belief were significantly more likely to increase their drinking over the next 10 years of follow-up.

Many women who have sexual dysfunction problems self-medicate with alcohol. If those develop a drinking problem, they find it particularly difficult to cut down or quit; they feel they won't be able to be sexual.

Among women who were problem drinkers and had a primary sexual dysfunction in 1981, 86% continued to be problem drinkers in 1986, compared with 69% with a drinking problem but no sexual dysfunction in 1981. …

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