Women may be just as likely as men to be feeling the aftereffects of too much alcohol over Thanksgiving; a new study from the National Institutes of Health finds that, while men still drink more than women, the gap is closing.

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When it comes to alcohol consumption, women are catching up with men, according to new research.

Lead study author Dr. Aaron White, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers analyzed 2002-12 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which provides national and state-level data on the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs in the US.

Specifically, the researchers assessed the alcohol use of men and women aged 12 and older in the US, including levels of current drinking and binge drinking, whether they combined alcohol use with other drugs – such as marijuana – whether they engaged in drunk driving, and whether they met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Between 2002-12, the team found that the alcohol use gap between men and women narrowed.

There was an increase in current drinking – defined as alcohol consumption in the past 30 days – among women over the 10-year period, from 44.9% to 48.3%. However, current drinking declined among men, from 57.4% in 2002 to 56.1% in 2012.

The researchers found that the number of drinking days over the past month also rose among women, from 6.8 days in 2002 to 7.3 days in 2012, while falling from 9.9 days to 9.5 days for men.

Fast facts about alcohol use in the US
  • A 2013 survey found more than 56% of Americans aged 18 and older reported drinking in the past month
  • 24.6% of adults aged 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month
  • 16.6 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2013.

Learn more about alcoholism

Among 18-25-year-olds who were not in college, the team identified a significant increase in binge drinking among women between 2002-12 and a significant fall in binge drinking among men, representing a narrowed gender gap for binge drinking in young adulthood.

“This study confirms what other recent reports have suggested about changing patterns of alcohol use by men and women in the US,” notes George F. Koob, PhD, director of the NIAAA.

The team says there was only one measure for which the gender gap increased over the 10-year period: the use of alcohol and marijuana on the last drinking occasion. This increased from 15-19% among 18-25-year-old men but remained steady at around 10% for women of this age group.

The team says the reasons behind the closing gender gap for alcohol use in the US are unclear; in the study, it could not be fully explained by trends in marital status, pregnancy status or employment status, which they controlled for.

Still, they say the findings warrant concern, particularly because women are at greater risk for alcohol-related health outcomes than men, such as cardiovascular disease and liver inflammation.

Dr. White and colleagues say further research is needed to identify the drivers behind the closing gender gap surrounding alcohol consumption, as this will inform prevention and treatment strategies.

In September, Medical News Today reported on research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that around 10% of women in the US drink alcohol while pregnant.