Women now drink nearly as much alcohol as men, study finds

(Amanda Greene/CNN)

(Amanda Greene/CNN)

Women are now drinking nearly as much alcohol as men, according to a new study.

The report, published in the medical journal BMJ Open, analyzed 4 million people born between 1891 and 2001 and found that, historically, men were more likely to drink alcohol, and in amounts that would damage their health.

Now, women are catching up, especially in more recent generations.

Early on in the 20th century, men were more than twice as likely to drink than women, and more than three times as likely to develop alcohol-related problems. But today, the two genders are about equal — men born since the 1980s are only 1.1 times more likely to drink than than their female counterparts, and 1.3 times more likely to consume alcohol in a way that is considered problematic.

The results came from the analysis of 68 international studies published between 1980 and 2014. The researchers grouped people by birth date to look at different levels of alcohol consumption. Researchers looked at any use, including quantities and frequency, problematic uses such as binge drinking or heavy drinking, and the prevalence of associated problems.

“There had been several reports of sex convergence regarding alcohol consumption, but nobody had confirmed that, which is why we decided to look over global studies published throughout the years to see if we could prove that there had been a shift,” said researcher Katherine M. Keyes, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.

The study did not test why the gap is closing between men and women when it comes to alcohol, but researchers noted that changing traditional gender roles for women could be one explanation.

Long-term excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Understanding how its consumption has evolved is essential to develop effective available treatments,” Keyes told CNN.

More research needed globally

The majority of studies analyzed were conducted in North America and Europe, so the results might reflect a Western trend.

“We looked at all the available countries,” Keyes said, “but more research is needed globally. More population studies are needed.”

Spreading that message is important, Keyes told CNN.

“The essential thing to highlight is that there is treatment available for anyone suffering with alcohol abuse, both men and women. However, the focus here is women because there seems to be a stigma associated with women who drink and need help, as alcohol consumption is viewed as a male phenomenon,” Keyes said.

“Gender differences are diminishing, so public health practitioners need to bring women into the fold when it comes to alcohol abuse.”

For the researchers, the message is clear: alcohol use and alcohol use disorders cannot continue to be viewed as phenomenon only among men.

“If (women) are having problem, they need to reach out,” Keyes said. “They are not alone.”