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More older American women than ever are drinking — and drinking a lot, a new study finds.
Most worrisome was that the number of women over 60 who binge-drink has been rising at a fast clip and at much greater rates than for older men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge-drinking as the consumption of five drinks within a two-hour period for men, and four drinks for women.
“Increased drinking and binge-drinking can be a serious health problem for women,” said study author Rosalind Breslow, an epidemiologist at the NIAAA. She said that women’s bodies don’t tolerate alcohol as well as men’s bodies do.
“So, after a man and woman of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the women’s blood alcohol concentration will tend to be higher, putting her at greater risk for harm,” Breslow noted.
She and other researchers studied drinking rates among a group of men and women 60 and older between 1997 and 2014. They found that the number of women who binge-drink jumped about 4 percent a year, while the proportion of men who binge-drink remained fairly steady.
Of the 65,000 men and women studied, more than 6,500 men were binge-drinkers, compared with 1,700 women. So while the number of binge-drinking women is rising, there are still more older male binge-drinkers than female.
The study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, focused on responses to a National Health Review.
The authors of the study did not speculate about what might be behind the increase in drinking.
But previous research points to a variety of reasons why women may be drinking more as they age.
“Older women may be especially at risk for alcohol problems because they are more likely than men to outlive their spouses and face other losses that may lead to loneliness and depression,” the NIAAA found.
The health risks associated with excessive drinking are plentiful, especially for women, since their alcohol tolerance level is lower than that of men. For example, the risk of alcohol-related liver diseases, memory loss and cancer is higher for women than for men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.