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Binge drinking is up since 2006, with the upswing greater among women

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash
The proportion of women who reported binge drinking rose from 21 percent to 33 percent. That compares with a rise of 42 percent to 45 percent among men.

Binge drinking among moms may be on the rise, but not any more than among women without children, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

In fact, despite the recent flurry of media attention that “mommy drinking” (also referred to as “wine-mom culture”) has received, moms tend to binge drink less than any other group, the study found.

“So that puts to bed the idea that there is something special about mommy drinking,” said Sarah McKetta, the study’s lead author and a medical and Ph.D. student at Columbia University, in an interview with NBC News.

“It seems we need to be worried about everyone,” she added.

For the study, McKetta and her co-authors looked at data collected from a nationally representative group of almost 240,000 American adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey between 2006 and 2018. The survey includes detailed questions on alcohol consumption, as well as demographic information, including family composition.

All the respondents were between the ages of 18 and 55, the age range when adults are most likely to be parenting young children.

One of the specific goals of the study was to see if women with children are doing more binge or heavy drinking than other groups.

Binge drinking is defined in the study as consuming four or more alcoholic beverages on a single day for women and five or more for men. Heavy drinking is defined as 60 or more days of binge drinking within a 12-month period.

Key findings

The proportion of respondents who reported binge drinking increased during the study period, from 32 percent in 2006 to 39 percent in 2018.  Although men — particularly those without children — engage in binge drinking more often than women, the upswing in this type was drinking was greater among women.

The proportion of women who reported binge drinking rose from 21 percent to 33 percent. That compares with a rise of 42 percent to 45 percent among men.

In fact, the largest increases in binge drinking occurred among women ages 30 to 44 without children, doubling from 21 percent back in 2006 to 42 percent in 2018.

The only group with a decline in binge drinking was young fathers aged 18 to 29. The drop was small, however — from 32 percent to 31 percent.

Both men and women with children reported lower levels of binge drinking than their peers who weren’t parents, but parents are definitely drinking more than they were in 2006. That includes moms. In 2018, 29 percent of the moms surveyed said they engaged in binge drinking compared to 17 percent in 2006.

But binge drinking among women without children climbed at a similar rate, from 24 percent in 2006 to 37 percent in 2018.

There is some good news in the study (or, rather, relatively good news): Heavy drinking did not trend up — except among older women (those aged 45 to 55) without children.

“Our study demonstrated that trends in binge and heavy drinking over time were not differentiated by parenting status for women; rather, declines and increases over time were mainly attributable to sex and age,” said Katherine Keyes, the study’s senior author and an epidemiologist at Columbia University, in a released statement.

“We observed that men and women who parent drink less than those who do not, and men who parent drink more than women who parent.”

A dangerous trend

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, “Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.” It’s linked to a long list of health problems, including unintentional injuries, violence, poor pregnancy outcomes, certain cancers, and chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and liver disease.

Each year, about 88,000 Americans die as a result of excessive drinking.

Binge drinking also places a huge economic burden on the U.S. economy — at least $191 billion a year in lost health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, lost productivity and other expenses.

That’s $2.05 per drink, according to the CDC’s calculations.

This new study’s findings are, therefore, quite sobering.

“Although heavy drinking has either decreased or stabilized for most groups, binge drinking is still common and is becoming even more prevalent,” said McKetta, in a released statement.

“It’s still unknown why women are increasing drinking relative to men,” she added, “but we encourage physicians to screen all adults — not just select groups of men and women — for alcohol use disorders and referring them to appropriate treatment.”

FMI: You can read the study in full on the PLOS Medicine website.

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