Changing Patterns of Alcohol Use by Girls and Young Adult Women (Archived)

This is an Archived Webinar event.

Recorded Webinar from January 17, 2024. 

Alcohol use among young people, including adolescents and, to a lesser extent, young adults, has been declining over the past 20 years. This is great news, given evidence that alcohol can alter the developing brain and contribute to a wide range of harms, including accidents, overdoses, and sexual assaults.

While the declines in drinking are good news, a closer look at the data shows that the declines have been much larger for males than females. As a result, for some age ranges, girls and young adult women are now more likely to drink and binge drink than males for the first time since data collection began more than a century ago. And while alcohol use is declining for adolescents and young adults in their 20s, it is increasing for adults over the age of 30, particularly for women. For every age group, differences in alcohol consumption between males and females continue to narrow.

Important questions include why the gaps have narrowed between males and females, why alcohol use is increasing among young adult women in their 30s, and what it all means. Several contributing factors have been hypothesized, including increases in stress that disproportionately affect females, narrowing income gaps with young adult women now out-earning males in several metropolitan areas throughout the country, and cultural shifts leading women to delay or skip marriage and childbirth.

As patterns of drinking have changed for girls and women, so has our understanding of the health effects of alcohol for females. Alcohol impacts health more severely in a variety of ways for females and males. Narrowing gaps in alcohol use have contributed to narrowing gaps in alcohol-related harms (e.g., deaths, liver disease, injuries), which makes the increases in alcohol use for women in their 30s more concerning.

Presented by: 

Dr. Aaron White is the Senior Scientific Advisor to the Director and Leader of the Epidemiology and Biometry Branch at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.