How Age and Roles Affect Alcohol Use in Women
There are important reasons for considering alcohol use patterns and health concerns in women independently from the overall figures. For one, the most significant alcohol-related health problems are different for women than for men, and are often more severe. For another, the ages, experiences, and roles in life that affect drinking in women may also be distinguished from overall trends. This major health concern for women should not be dismissed, but should be treated as a unique concern.
Female Drinkers in Their Teens
Research looking at the drinking habits of 9th graders - who are generally either 14 or 15 years old - has shown that a larger percentage of girls than boys in that age group have consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the past month. The number of these adolescent girls who have reported drinking alcohol is approximately 37 percent, and the number who have reported drinking five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion in the past month is an equally disturbing 17 percent.
The risk of becoming alcoholics for individuals who begin drinking before the age of 15 is 40 higher than the risk for the general population. This risk is the same for girls as it is for boys, putting girls at a slightly higher overall risk of alcoholism following underage drinking. Men are still significantly more likely overall to become alcoholics, but the current drinking habits among young girls are a concerning trend.
Female Drinkers in Early Adulthood
Overall, women who drink tend to do so most actively when they are in their 20s and 30s. However, there are some racial and ethnic differences when it comes to overall drinking, early adulthood, and late adulthood drinking.
Hispanic women who identify more strongly with their ethnic heritage and native culture are less likely to drink than those who identify more strongly as "mainstream." A smaller percentage of African American women than white women drink, although African American women are more likely to drink more heavily later in life. In spite of abstaining from alcohol at a higher rate than white women, African American women are also more likely to suffer from serious alcohol-related health problems.
Female Drinkers in Late Adulthood
Overall, women in the later decades of adulthood are less likely to drink than younger women. However, recent studies have shown that this trend may be changing, with people born after the mid 1900s more likely to continue drinking into their later years if they drank in young adulthood. Women become intoxicated more easily than men and often suffer from more serious health complications from alcohol than men - both of these concerns become more acute as women age, putting women who continue to drink in late adulthood at greater risk.
Marital Status and Roles
Stress is a major contributing factor to excess drinking among both sexes. Balancing multiple roles - such as motherhood and a career - can be stressful for many women. At the same time, research has shown that having multiple roles actually makes women less likely to suffer from alcohol dependence. Furthermore, women who lose a key role over the course of their lifetime actually become more likely overall to have a drinking problem. However, drinking following the loss of working status, parental status, or marital status may be largely influenced by the stress of that event.
In general, the drinking patterns of women throughout their lives often resemble the drinking habits of those closest to them. Marital status also has a significant impact on the likelihood that women will drink heavily or experience alcohol-related problems. Single women who have never married, or are divorced or separated, are more prone to alcohol problems than married women. This is also the case for women who live with a partner but are not married. However, married women whose married partners are heavy drinkers are more likely to drink heavily than other married women.