Baby Boomers and Women Drinking More Alcohol

Baby boomers and women of all ages are drinking more alcohol, according to a major study from Columbia University.

Dr. Katherine Keyes and her colleagues at the Mailman School Of Public Health combed through 31 previous studies about alcohol consumption and identified several major new trends. Baby boomers and senior citizens — Americans born after World War II — are binge drinking more often and developing more alcohol abuse disorders. Binge drinking is defined as heavy episodic drinking for the purpose of intoxication, or five drinks in a row in one sitting for men and four drinks for women.

Dr. Keyes found that the number of people who do not drink at all has decreased. Among adults over 18, over 40% of women and 27% of men told researchers they had not had a drink in the past year.

More women are drinking more often and more heavily, probably because their roles in society have changed and they now enter more environments that are alcohol-friendly. Women born after World War II not only have to carry out traditional roles but they are also going to college and entering the workplace in great numbers. The study found that 20% of women had three drinks a day, compared to 42% of men.

“It seems like the introduction of more women into the workforce, and more upwardly mobile women — while that has many positive benefits to society, it is also reducing social sanctions on drinking. It is becoming more and more acceptable for women to drink,” Dr. Keyes said. “Environment increases the risk for alcoholism. While genetics play a substantial role, the generational differences between those born before and after World War II indicate that factors in the environment such as policies, laws, social norms, availability, and broader social context also contribute substantially to the underlying risk for alcohol use disorders in the population.”

This study appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research.

Some experts commented on this study, noting that women who drink excessively put themselves at greater risk than do men who drink in the same amounts. Women metabolize alcohol differently than men do, because their bodies are smaller and have less water content. They can become intoxicated more quickly and after consuming fewer drinks than men. Women who drink heavily are at greater risk for sexual assault and domestic violence.

“This study empirically shows us the drinking trends are impacting women,” said Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, an addiction specialist. “After World War II, the role of women changed. More women entered the workplace, but they were also expected to be good wives and mothers. They have latched on to alcohol as a coping mechanism because it is readily available and socially acceptable.”

Another recent study found that alcohol is linked to breast cancer in women. Previous studies have shown that alcohol is a carcinogen that is a risk factor for liver, colorectum, and esophagus cancers. The body converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a chemical similar to formaldehyde. Acetaldehyde causes DNA damage that in turn triggers cell abnormalities.

The majority of people convert acetaldehyde into acetate, a harmless substance, when they drink alcohol, but those who cannot are at greater risk for cancer if they drink.

The study that found the link between alcohol and breast cancer appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research.