Why are drinking deaths among women at an all-time high?

According to a recent report from the NIAAA, alcohol-related deaths have more than DOUBLED. From 1999 to 2017 – less than a generation – drinking deaths jumped from 36,000 to over 76,000.

10% of ALL deaths in the United States are due to excessive drinking. Of special relevance, 70% of alcohol-attributable deaths are among working-age adults between the ages of 20 and 64.

Keep this in mind: despite what you may have heard about any supposed health benefits associated with light or moderate drinking, alcohol takes 10 times as many lives as it saves.

In fact, the World Health Organization says that there are over 200 disease and injury conditions related to excessive alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specifically identified over 50 ways that alcohol can kill.

“The rapid increase in deaths involving alcohol among women is troubling and parallels the increases in alcohol consumption among women over the past few decades.” ~ George Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol, Abuse, and Alcoholism

Excessive drinking is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Think about the human cost – from 2006 to 2010, there was an average of 2.5 million years of potential life lost to alcohol abuse every year.

Director Koob said in a statement, The report is a wakeup call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health. Alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses, and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population.”

Drinking Deaths among Women: The Statistics

With the increases in alcohol use among women, there’s been increases in harms for women including ER visits, hospitalization, and deaths.” ~ Dr. Aaron White, NIAAA, in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research”

One of the hardest-hit demographic groups was women. Men still account for the majority of deaths involving alcohol, but women are gaining fast. For example, the total number of drinking deaths among women rose at a much faster rate than those among men, 85% for women versus 39% for men.

In another study of close to 80,000 people between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, NIAAA researchers made some sobering findings:

  • There was no change in the prevalence of drinking or binge drinking among men.
  • However, drinking rates among women have risen by 10%.
  • Binge drinking among women has jumped by 58%.
  • Alcohol abuse and dependence among women spiked by 84%.
  • Drunk-driving arrests among women increased by 23% between 2003 and 2012.

For comparison, DUI arrests among men decreased by 17% during that same period.

Women and their Drinking Habits

Men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume larger amounts. But increasingly, women are closing the gap. According to the CDC:

  • 46% of women report drinking within the past 30 days.
  • The number of days drinking has more than doubled
  • 1 in 8 binge drinks at least 3 times per month.
  • On those occasions, they consumed an average of 5 drinks.
  • Among young adult women ages 18 to 25, binge drinking behaviors have quintupled, with 29% self-reporting binge drinking.
  • Anything over 1 daily drink by a woman is considered heavy drinking.

Why are Women Drinking More?

“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away… But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when the drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”

~Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be: a Memoir of Alcoholism and Addiction, Faith and Family, Hope and Humor

Ali Mokdad, Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, says that the cultural acceptance of female drinking is the chief reason for the across-the-board increase. In other words. it is no longer a social taboo in America for a woman to drink, even to excess.

“We work hard and go out for a drink. We succeed (at something), we drink. We fail at something, we drink. Economy goes up, we drink. It goes down, we drink.”

“It seems like women are trying to catch up to man in binge drinking. It’s really, really scary. There are a lot of people still out there needing treatment, but they won’t come in unless they have a consequence like losing a job or (getting) a DUI. They think they have control over it.”,  Professor Mokdad continued.

Researchers with the NIAAA also theorize that “Increases in educational and occupational opportunities and rising number of women in the workforce” contribute to rising drinking levels among women.

Alcohol and Women’s Health

This news is concerning because recent research highlights how alcohol negatively impacts women’s health. Because of gender differences in body structure and chemistry, women absorb more alcohol from drinking than men, and they take longer to metabolize it.

This means that when they drink in equal amounts, women have higher alcohol levels than men. The effects of alcohol are felt more quickly and last longer than they do in men. 

Research shows that women are deficient in alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme found in the stomach lining that breaks down alcohol. This is why women get drunk on fewer drinks than men. For example, a woman who consumes just two beers is likely to have a blood-alcohol level that qualifies as legally drunk.

All of this increases the risk of long-term alcohol-related health problems. In the July 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Critical and Experimental Research, researchers wrote that women who abuse alcohol need medical treatment four years earlier than their male alcoholics.

12,000 women a year die from health conditions and diseases that are directly attributable to excessive drinking. Let’s look at some of the top causes of drinking deaths among women:

According to the CDC and the NIAAA, women who chronically misuse alcohol are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver disease kills nearly 4,000 women a year. Another 3,200 women die from cirrhosis.

  • Overall, 20% of chronic heavy drinkers eventually develop cirrhosis.
  • 35% will contract alcoholic hepatitis.
  • For women, just 2 drinks a day increases the risk of alcoholic hepatitis by 7%.=
  • Worse, those same 2 drinks increase the risk of fibrosis – scarring of the liver – by 47%.
  • Drinking on an empty stomach triples the risk of alcohol-associated liver disease.
  • Women have double the risk of ALD as men.
  • According to 2019 research published in the Journal of American Medicine,  ALD has surpassed Hepatitis C as the #1 cause of liver transplants in the United States.
  • Currently, there are 17,000 people on the liver transplant waiting list.
  • Among liver transplant patients, those with ALD have a five-year postoperative survival rate that is 11% lower than other patients.

As many as 1 in 30 cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol, per the American Journal of Public HealthIn fact, consuming just 20 grams of alcohol a daythe equivalent of about one-and-a-half drinks — accounts for up to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancers.

  • Just one daily drink raises a woman’s chances of breast cancer by 13%. Up to 66% of alcohol-related cancer deaths among women are from breast cancer. 391 women die each year from alcohol-related breast cancer.
  • Alcohol abuse is linked to up to 36% of all liver cancer cases, which kills 245 women annually. 
  • Consuming 3 or more servings of “hard” alcohol per day increases the risk of pancreatic cancer by 36%. Alcohol-caused pancreatic damage claims the lives of 450 women per year.
  • Compared to non- or light drinkers, moderate-to-heavy drinkers have a 50% greater chance of developing colon cancer
  • People who both drink and smoke have a risk of mouth, tracheal, or esophageal cancer that is 35 times higher than those who do neither. 

For women, even moderate drinking — one alcoholic beverage a day — can lead to reduced heart function. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is when the heart cannot pump blood efficiently, potentially leading to heart failure.

The CDC reports that at least 1,600 women die every year directly due to alcohol-induced heart disease and strokes.

Long-term alcohol abuse is a degenerative disease that affects every major organ and system. Every year, close to 1,600 women die from alcohol abuse, psychosis, or withdrawal.

But these are just the health conditions and diseases. What about fatal accidents and injuries? Annually, these claim the lives of over 14,000 women.

  • Falls – 3,688
  • Poisonings – 3,330
  • Crashes – 2,783
  • Suicides – 1,733
  • Homicides – 1,535

Getting Help for a Drinking Problem

Women who abuse alcohol face unique barriers to recovery.  This is especially true of working mothers, who struggle with meeting the constant demands of their family life, their professional career, and often, their continuing education.

Too many women in crisis mistakenly believe that their only rehab option is a residential program. They delay getting professional help because they cannot take off a whole month from their obligations — their partner, children, and family, their job, their education, or their other commitments.

For these women who think they are too busy to go to rehab, there is another recovery resource — an Intensive Outpatient Program.  As the name suggests, an IOP is an in-depth, highly-structured addiction recovery service that is offered on an outpatient basis.

Compared to standard outpatient counseling, IOPs offer far more individualized and comprehensive treatment that maximizes your chances of safely and successfully regaining your sobriety.

You get the same evidence-based services that you would at a more time-consuming – and expensive – residential facility. Best of all,  research shows that an IOP is just as effective as an inpatient rehab at helping you attain lasting recovery.

Some of the benefits of an IOP include:

  • Greater flexibility
  • Easier affordability
  • You can practice what you learn
  • You don’t have to relocate or put your life on hold.
  • You can continue working or going to school.
  • You stay connected with your family.
  • They help you transition from a residential program back to your normal life.
  • You live at home.

In other words, an IOP can make it a lot easier to get the help you need for ANY substance abuse problem.  They make it easier for you to take the First Steps on your sober journey.

If you live in the Denver area, your best chance for evidence-based outpatient rehab is Women’s Recovery. As one of the top gender-specific rehab programs in Colorado, Women’s Recovery is the resource you need to regain both your sobriety and your physical and mental health.

For more information, contact Women’s Recovery TODAY.