Not only are more American women drinking alcohol but an increasing number of them are drinking more regularly, according to a new federal study, which has found that longstanding differences on alcohol consumption between the genders may be narrowing.
The increase in alcohol consumption has medical officials concerned because it puts women at a greater risk for alcohol-related illnesses, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Monday.
"Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing," Dr. Aaron White, a senior scientific advisor to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said in a statement.
White and his team reviewed data from yearly national surveys conducted between 2002 to 2012, and published their findings in the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal.
"We found that over that period of time, differences in measures such as current drinking, number of drinking days per month, reaching criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year, all narrowed for females and males," White said.
Researchers found the number of people who reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days increased for women from 44.9% to 48.3%, but decreased for men from 57.4% to 56.1%.
Additionally, women increased their number of drinking days each month from 6.8 to 7.3 days, while the days declined for men from 9.9 to 9.5.
While the rates of binge drinking (which the NIAAA says typically occurs for women after four drinks and five drinks for men in about a two hour period) did not increase for 18 to 25 year olds in college, researchers reported a "significant increase" in women binge drinking and a significant decrease for men.
“This study confirms what other recent reports have suggested about changing patterns of alcohol use by men and women in the U.S.,” said NIAAA Director Dr. George F. Koob.
Koon said women are at a greater risk of developing illnesses linked to alcohol, such as liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and cancer.
"Reasons for converging patterns of alcohol use are unclear and do not appear to be easily explainable by recent trends in employment status, pregnancy status, or marital status," researchers wrote.
The report's authors said more research was needed to identify the factors driving the shift in drinking.