ONE new study shows that alcohol-related deaths among women are rising faster than among men, especially for those aged 65 and over.
The study analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on more than 600,000 alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2020, including those from alcohol poisoning, alcoholic liver disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, acute poisoning, and mental and behavioral disorders associated with alcohol use, among others. other reasons.
Over the past 15 years, alcohol-related deaths have risen steadily in the United States, and historically more men have died from alcohol-related causes. This is still the case, this study shows, but the gap is narrowing. From 2018 to 2020, alcohol-related deaths increased by 12.5 percent per year for men, but by 14.7 percent per year for women. The study highlighted rising rates among older women, in particular: From 2012 to 2020, alcohol-related deaths among women age 65 and older increased by 6.7 percent per year, compared with a 5.2 percent increase per year for men in the same age group.
The study does not point to the reasons behind the increase in female alcohol-related deaths, said Dr. Ibraheem Karaye, an assistant professor of population health at Hofstra University and lead author of the study. But he offered a few potential theories. First, alcohol consumption appears to be increasing among women, said Dr. Karaye. He also noted that alcohol affects women differently: Women’s bodies tend to have less fluid to dilute alcohol compared to men’s bodies, which results in higher blood alcohol concentrations and can make women more vulnerable to health complications.
Women are also at greater risk for depression and anxiety, said George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and may be turning to alcohol to cope, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Older women are also particularly likely to experience feelings of loneliness, he said as they often outlive their partners.
The higher death rate among older women may also stem from the cumulative toll that alcohol takes over one’s lifetime, said Dr. Karaye. Women over 65 may not consume more alcohol than their younger counterparts, but suffer the health effects of decades of chronic drinking.
How to reassess your drinking and reduce your risk
Everyone can benefit from drinking less alcohol. Especially over the last few years, a wealth of research has strengthened the connection between even casual drinking and serious health consequences.
Even if you’ve been a consistent drinker your whole life, cutting back now can help reduce your risk, said Johannes Thrul, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In the short term, you reduce the chance of harming yourself; over time, you reduce the potential for chronic health problems associated with alcohol use, he said.
Dr. Karaye agreed: “Reducing or eliminating exposure at any point would be valuable.”
Several experts recommended a guide from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism called “To reconsider drinkingwhich can help you evaluate your alcohol consumption, make a plan to cut back or stop, and decide whether to seek professional help.
For older adults who wonder if their drinking is problematic, Dr. Koob that there were a few factors they might want to consider. Alcohol can make your social interactions worse, he said — for example, if you doze off while talking on the phone with your grandchildren at night, or act more grumpy and irritable during the day. People may also find that drinking disrupts their sleep or prevents them from exercising regularly, or that they are more likely to fall after consuming alcohol, he said.
Taking a few days off from drinking can also help you assess your relationship with alcohol, advised Dr. Koob: If you feel better on those days — you’re more clear-headed, you sleep better — that’s a strong indication that you should cut back.
It’s important not to think of your alcohol consumption as strictly binary — that you either have a problem or you don’t, said Holly Whitaker, author of “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol “. .” Instead, she said it’s crucial to think about the net impact that alcohol has on your life and to “really tune in, doesn’t that feel good?”
Dr. Thrul said a helpful strategy for cutting back is to identify the instances and occasions when you most want to drink so you can plan and think about alternatives, such as the growing wave of non-alcoholic beverages.
“True, low-risk drinking is not drinking at all,” said Dr. Thrull. “This is something that society is just beginning to understand.”