Older American Women Are Drinking More Alcohol


Binge drinking is affecting an unexpected population in a drastic way. Older American women are consuming more alcohol than ever before, according to a new study.

Published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, a new study shows that heavy drinking is on an upward trend in older women over 60 years of age who fall into the baby boomer generation.

Credit: Peter Long/Flickr

While alcohol consumption increases in male baby boomers on an average of 0.7 percent per year, among women of the same age it increases more than double at a rate of 1.6 percent each year. Binge drinking in particular increased 3.7 percent in women in just one year.

Over 65,000 respondents participated in the survey, with a nearly even split of men and women. These people were already reported drinkers, though not all reported heavy drinking, or binge drinking. From 1997 to 2016, their answers were analyzed for specific patterns or trends. Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, noticed a striking upward trend in women who reported binge drinking which draws cause for concern.

“Too much drinking increases your chances of being injured or even killed. Alcohol is a factor, for example, in about 60 percent of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides; 50 percent of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults; and 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides and fatal falls,” said Breslow.

Related: Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Is a Recipe for Injuries

The recommended maximum of alcoholic beverages is three per day, or no more than seven per week for healthy adults over the age of 65. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as “drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men — in about 2 hours.”

In addition, women have a lower tolerance for alcohol than men do, making them more susceptible to alcohol-related illnesses. These illnesses include heart disease, liver failure, depression, diabetes and more. This is due to the fact that women usually weigh less than men and carry less water. Since alcohol dissolves in water, the less water a person carries, the greater the effect of the alcohol.

Dr. J.C. Garbutt, alcohol abuse expert and Medical Director of the University of North Carolina Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program in Chapel Hill, also weighed in on the findings.

Related: Women Are Closing the Alcohol Gender Gap

“We know that, overall, women are more sensitive to the negative health consequences of alcohol than men…” Garbutt said. “Regardless, this speaks to the need to continue to educate the public about the harms of alcohol, including the increased risk to women and older individuals.”

There has been no reasonable explanation found to explain this upward swing in alcohol consumption among women. All that is known is that it continues to rise. A previous study showed that women are now just as likely to engage in binge drinking and alcoholic habits as men. In the study, Breslow encourages public health services to recognize the need to begin planning alcohol-related illness treatments for this population.