Men and Women Now Drink About Same Amount of Alcohol Interview with:

Tim Slade, PhD Associate Professor National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre University of New South Wales

Prof. Tim Slade

Tim Slade, PhD
Associate Professor
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
University of New South Wales What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Historically, men have been more likely to drink alcohol than women and to drink in quantities that damage their health. However, evidence points to a significant shift in the drinking landscape with rates of alcohol use converging among men and women born in more recent times. In a bid to quantify this trend over time, we pooled data from 68 published research studies in 36 countries around the world. We looked at how the ratio of men’s to women’s alcohol use differed for people born in different time periods and found that the gap between the sexes consistently narrowed over the past 100 years or so. For example, among cohorts born in the early 1900s men were just over two times more likely than women to drink alcohol. Among cohorts born in the late 1900s this ratio had decreased to almost one meaning that men’s and women’s drinking rates have reached parity. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We can no longer think of alcohol use and alcohol-related harms as problems that just affect men. We need public education campaigns that appeal to both men and women. We need to ensure that prevention and early intervention programs are framed in such a way that they are sensitive to the changing population trends in alcohol use. We need to reduce the attitudinal and structural barriers that get in the way of women seeking treatment for alcohol-related problems. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: There is evidence of a change in the population patterns of alcohol use. Changes like these require a rethink about how we might most effectively tackle the health problems associated with harmful alcohol use. But this is by no means the end of the story. In fact, we are really only in the middle of the story. Many of the men and women who have contributed to changing drinking patterns more recently are only now in their 20s and 30s. We need to further track these patterns and trends in population drinking as these cohorts age into their 40s, 50s and beyond. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: It may be interesting to speculate why this trend has emerged. We don’t have a definitive answer to that but in many countries around the world we have seen substantial developments in broader social, cultural and economic factors for women. It is likely that sex differences in alcohol use are linked, probably in complex ways, to increased participation of females in education, greater engagement by females in paid employment outside the home, increased financial independence and generally more accepting societal norms around female drinking. There is a suggestion that the stress and strain of everyday life has been steadily increasing, particularly for women. We certainly know that some people use alcohol in an attempt to cope with symptoms of distress and negative mood.

Lastly, the social context around drinking has changed over time. We are not only influenced by the drinking habits of our friends and colleagues but our drinking habits can also impact who we spend time with. It is possible that, over the past 100 years, changes in these factors have been greater for women than for men. All these suggestions are speculative at this stage. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Birth cohort trends in the global epidemiology of alcohol use an alcohol related harms in men and women: systematic review and metaregressionTim Slade, Cath Chapman, Wendy Swift, Katherine Keyes, Zoe Tonks, Maree Teesson
BMJ Open 2016;6:10 e011827 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011827

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on October 27, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD