Binge-drinking has doubled among American women without children

Binge drinking among women without children has doubled in just over a decade, according to new research.

More than four in ten (42 percent) childless 30- to 44-year-olds were having five or more drinks on any given occasion last year – compared to a fifth (21 percent) in 2006.

The finding, based on almost 240,000 Americans, mirrors one identified among mothers, too, but the rise of bingeing was steepest among women who didn’t have little ones.

‘Although heavy drinking has either decreased or stabilized for most groups, binge drinking is still common and is becoming even more prevalent,’ lead author Sarah McKetta, an epidemiologist at Columbia University said. 

Adult women who don’t have children are hitting the sauce, with binge drinking doubling among those between 30 and 44 in the US, a new study finds (file) 

‘It’s still unknown why women are increasing drinking relative to men, 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.’

US men and women combined rank as the 25th heaviest drinkers in the world, while British women are now among the world’s biggest drinkers – matching men drink for drink, experts have warned.

Growing rates of liver disease in the US and UK alike have been blamed on them extending the heavy-drinking culture of their youth.

In particular, heavy drinking has risen among professional women in the UK – dubbed ‘the dark side of equality’.

One study found women with a university degree are twice as likely to be problem drinkers, compared with those with less education.

The fact women are starting families later might also mean heavy drinking was more likely to become embedded into their lifestyle.

Ms McKetta, a PhD student in public health, said: ‘The largest increases in binge drinking were reported among women aged 30 to 44 without children – from 21 percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2018.’

Mothers and fathers were least prone – with childless men having the highest levels overall.

But the analysis published in PLOS Medicine found nearly all groups increased binge drinking in the past decade.

Men and women are continuing to increase binge drinking, regardless of parenting status.

The exception was young fathers aged 18 to 29, for whom it declined, said the researchers. 

‘Binge drinking has risen for women across all adult ages and parenting statuses,’ added McKetta. 

Her team were interested in the phenomenon of ‘mommy drinking,’ and whether women who were parents were in fact showing different or increased drinking behavior. 

‘Mommy drinking is on the upswing – but women without children still drink more,’ McKetta said. 

The researchers studied binge drinking and heavy drinking among 239,944 adults aged 18 to 55 from the annual National Health Interview Survey [NHIS) for the years 2006 to 2018.

They then tested whether there were increasing, decreasing, or mostly unchanged trends among men and women depending on parental status and age.

Results were based on responses to questions about past-year alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking at least five times in the last 30 days.

Binge drinking is measured as any occasion of having more than five drinks during the past two weeks.

Despite widespread increases in binge drinking, heavy drinking declined or remained stable for all groups with the exception of childless middle aged women between 45 and 55.

But, overall, the prevalence of heavy drinking among women was indistinguishable over the 13 year period.

Alcohol abstention fell for all groups except for young fathers aged 18 to 29 – the same group that had reductions in binge drinking.

Senior author Professor Katherine Keyes, also of Columbia, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

Between 2006 and 2010, excessive alcohol use led to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost among US residents.

Drinking is increasing among all US adults, particularly among women, regardless of parenting status, said the researchers.

Although, on average, women still drink less than men, women aged 20 to 40 have shown the most pronounced increases in consumption, driving the national trends among adults. 

‘Moms are often subject to increased scrutiny regarding their own health, and how their decisions impact the health of their children,’ said McKetta. 

‘We found that public concern over ‘mommy drinking’ is not supported by the data.’

Added Prof Keyes: ‘Targeting subgroups or perpetuating myths that are based on normative beliefs about women’s parenting roles are a distraction from the growing public health concerns of problematic alcohol use among men and women of all ages.’

Last year a global study of 28 million people across 195 countries found the UK is almost unique in having no difference in the amount of alcohol men and women consume.

A steady growth in wine drinking since the 1980s, and the marketing of ‘female-friendly’ drinks such as cocktails, had driven British women to eighth worst place in the global league tables.

The study, led by the University of Washington, showed on average they are now consuming three alcoholic drinks daily – exactly the same as men. It linked alcohol to almost 3 million deaths globally. The research found it was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease – and the leading cause of death before the age of 50.

Researchers said the analysis found no safe level of alcoholic consumption, suggesting that going teetotal was the only way to avoid associated health risks.