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Baby Boomers and Women in the Firing Line

Alcohol threatens the post-war generations and women the most, claims Columbia's comprehensive review of studies.

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By Jennifer Matesa

09/21/11

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North Americans born after World War II have faced greater risk of developing alcoholism and engaging in “risky drinking practices,” such as binge-drinking, a new review of multiple studies from Columbia University has found. Claiming to be among the first scientists to take a systematic look at published information about age-group effects on alcoholism across time, gender, and geographic location, researchers examined 31 peer-reviewed studies on alcohol consumption conducted across six countries. In addition to finding that people born post-WWII are at higher risk of alcohol disorders, they also found that alcoholism among women is increasing—not just because of the traditional idea that women metabolize alcohol faster than men, but also because of changes in laws and social norms, the increasing availability of alcohol, and improvements in women’s economic status. In other words, more post-WWII women earn their own money, so they can buy their own booze. “The literature on alcohol consumption indicates that younger birth cohorts, especially women, are increasingly at risk for the development of alcohol use disorders,” said Katherine M. Keyes, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and the study’s first author. “Traditionally, gender differences are explained by biological differences in the ability of the body to metabolize alcohol and other biological mechanisms. These results suggest that the magnitude of gender differences changes over time, highlighting an important role for societal factors.” The study, to be published in December's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, emphasizes the greater likelihood of women developing long-term health problems due to alcoholism and calls for public health efforts to target heavy drinking in women.

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