A number of studies over the past few years have noted an eye-opening change in the drinking habits of women.
It was an incident in which she put her daughter in danger that made Laura McKowen of North Shore, Massachusetts realize she needed to stop drinking.
“I put her in danger at the wedding. I left her unattended for a long period of time. She was 4,” McKowen told WebMD. “I knew eventually, I would lose custody of my daughter if I kept drinking. It was inevitable. I knew I would lose pretty much everything.”
And McKowen isn’t alone. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) shows that alcohol use disorder in women in the U.S. doubled from 2002 to 2013.
Today, McKowen is a prominent voice in the recovery sphere and has nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram, where she often posts about life in recovery as a mother. She uses her story to reach out to women who may be part of the rising number battling alcohol.
According to WebMD, historically, males have been heavier and more frequent drinkers than women. However, new research from a number of organizations is pointing to a changing trend.
For example, high-risk drinking (3 or more drinks in one day or 7 or more in one week for women) grew about 58% from 2001-2002 to 2012-2013.
Another study, from 2018, found that from 2014 to 2016, alcohol-related ER visits increased more steeply for women than men. Female fatalities as a result of liver cirrhosis also increased from 2000 to 2013.
In addition to drinking more, studies have also found that women are starting to drink earlier, WebMD notes.
A 2017 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discovered that gender gaps in drinking as early as high school and middle school were narrowing, whereas males used to far outweigh females when it came to starting drinking early.
“Now, by eighth grade, more females than males are drinking. Females are now, for the first time in history, more likely to drink in 10th grade than males; and by 12th grade, where there used to be a big gap 10 or 15 years ago, it’s now dead even,” Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the director of the NIAAA.
One aspect of higher female drinking rates that is especially concerning is that females are more prone to certain drinking-related health issues, like liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and cancer, according to Deidra Roach, MD, medical project officer of the NIAAA Division of Treatment and Recovery Research. She adds that women are also more likely to experience blackouts.
“This is a very serious issue for women,” she says. “We need to do more in terms of getting this message out to young women and medical providers who work with young people. Because once you end up on the slippery slope of harmful drinking, it becomes difficult to reverse.”
According to WebMd, the reasons for the increase could have to do with a change in cultural norms, as well as an increase in depression and anxiety and possibly violence towards women.
As the issue continues to grow, McKowen plans to continue using her voice to let others know that sobriety is not the end.
“I thought sobriety was going to be a terrible death sentence, and it is by far the best thing that has ever happened in my life,” she told WebMD. “Now I have honest relationships. I am a far better mother, and I am doing work I actually love because I had the presence of mind to move to that. I am just living a more honest, joyful, and free life.”