Little has changed when it comes to America’s alcohol problem — with one exception: Substantially more women are drinking compared to a decade ago, and a higher percentage of them are binge drinking.
Because women are more vulnerable to the damaging health effects of alcohol than men, and because drinking during pregnancy can have devastating effects on a fetus, the federal government and some states have made the growing trend a top public health priority.
According to Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “the harms associated with alcohol use in women escalate more quickly, affecting women at an earlier age than men, and the damage tends to be more severe.”
A number of states are redoubling efforts to educate women and their health care providers about the misunderstood risks of what many people consider harmless levels of drinking.
The Delaware public health department, for example, has developed a questionnaire to help young women discuss their alcohol use with their health care providers.
And in Colorado, where a statewide substance abuse screening and prevention program has collected data on more than 50,000 residents, a tailored approach has been developed to help health care providers address the personal and often touchy issues of alcohol use and family planning.
Even for women who do not become addicted to alcohol, having more than seven alcoholic drinks in a week puts them at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and liver disease. The recommended maximum level for men is twice that amount.
In the past decade and a half, the share of women in the U.S. who drink alcohol has increased at least 22 percent, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Most worrying is an increase in the frequency and intensity of binge drinking among women and girls, said Dr. Bob Brewer, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s alcohol division.
The prevalence of female binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks on one occasion of about two hours, has risen 12 percent in the past decade.
One in eight women now report binge drinking. Usually she binges three times a month and usually has six drinks when she does.
As in most states, Delaware’s prevention efforts focus on women of childbearing age.
Alcohol use during pregnancy is the No. 1 preventable cause of birth defects. It can lead to sudden infant death syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is caused by irreversible neurological damage to the fetus.
Delaware is working with primary care doctors, obstetricians and gynecologists to increase the frequency of screening for alcohol use among all women.
Research has shown that even asking the question, “Do you drink?” during a physical exam can have positive effects on a patient’s health, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, Delaware’s director of public health.
Nationwide, only one in six people report that their doctors have asked them about drinking, and the rate is even lower for women. Experts say this is primarily because physicians tend to rule out excessive drinking as an issue for women.
— Tribune Content Agency