Is there a recent epidemic of women’s drinking? A critical review of national studies

Alcohol consumption is increasing in the United States, as is alcohol-attributable mortality. Historically, men have had higher rates of alcohol consumption than women, though evidence for birth cohort effects on gender differences in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm suggest that gender differences may be diminishing. We review studies using U.S. national data that examined time trends in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm since 2008. Utilizing a historical-developmental perspective, here we synthesize and integrate literature on birth cohort effects from varying developmental periods (i.e. adolescence, young adulthood, middle-adulthood, and late adulthood), with a focus on gender differences in alcohol consumption. Findings suggest that recent trends in gender differences in alcohol outcomes are heterogeneous by developmental stage. Among adolescents and young adults, both males and females are rapidly decreasing alcohol consumption, binge and high intensity drinking, and alcohol-related outcomes, with gender rates converging because males are decreasing consumption faster than females. This pattern does not hold among adults, however. In middle-adulthood, consumption, binge drinking, and alcohol-related harms are increasing, driven largely by increases among women in their 30s and 40s. The trend of increases in consumption that are faster for women than men appears to continue into older adult years (60 and older) across several studies. We conclude by addressing remaining gaps in the literature and offering directions for future research. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.