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Men no longer out-drink women, major study shows

Published:  25 October, 2016

Women are now drinking as much as men and may even be out-drinking them, according to a major new study published in the BMJ Open journal today.

Researchers pooled data from 68 independent studies which collectively included data on over 4 million individuals born between 1891 and 2000.

The team, led by Dr Tim Slade from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, used 11 key indicators of alcohol use and associated harms for their analysis. These were grouped into three broad categories: any use, which included quantities and frequency; problematic use, which included binge/heavy drinking; and the prevalence of associated harms.

While men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol, this disparity had all but disappeared among those born between 1991 and 2000.

With both problematic use and associated harms, the gender ratio fell even further. Three times as many men as women were likely to experience these in the first decades of the study. Both are now close to parity.

The steepest decline in the gender gap occurred among those born from 1966 onwards, the report shows.

The research does not formally assess whether alcohol use is falling among men or rising among women, but most of the studies included in the survey indicate that the gender convergence was driven by greater use of alcohol among women.

Among women born after 1981, there is evidence that they are drinking more than their male counterparts.

"In some of our data, we saw that the ratio was less than one, meaning that in some estimates the rate of drinking in men was lower," Dr Slade said.

"Alcohol use and alcohol use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon," the study concluded.

"The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms."