Are Women Less Likely To Seek Help For Alcohol Abuse?

By Maggie Ethridge 03/19/19

A new study found that women were significantly more likely than men to believe their alcohol abuse would resolve on its own.

women drinking alcohol

A recent study found that drinking affects women's bodies differently than men—and now a new study shows that women approach getting help for drinking differently as well.

Iowa Now reported that a new study from the University of Iowa reveals blatant gender differences, and confirmed the need for gender-disparate studies on health issues. Women were significantly more likely than men to believe their alcohol abuse would resolve on its own, with 47% of women responding affirmatively versus 23% of men.

Paul Gilbert, assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the UI College of Public Health and the study’s lead author, told Iowa Now that his study was the first survey-data analysis to examine differences in why adult men and women do not seek help.

“Men and women think differently about how they overcome alcoholism,” Gilbert said. “Women are more independent-minded and self-reliant, thinking it can be done independently. Men are more pessimistic based on failed past experiences, or they don’t know where to go to get help.”

Gilbert’s worked with George Pro and Grant Brown of the UI College of Public Health, and Sarah Zemore and Nina Mulia of the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California, to compile the research for the study, which was published in the April 2019 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study analyzed random survey data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The survey asked general health questions and was conducted both in 2000-2001 and 2004-2005. Professor Gilbert’s study focused on 2,600 respondents who met criteria for both alcohol abuse and participated in both surveys.

Both men and women cited embarrassment as their primary reason for not seeking treatment, but men were significantly more likely than women to report having failed in previous attempts to get help.

Research has already shown that alcohol abuse manifests itself differently in female and male bodies. Women generally have less water in their bodies pound for pound than men—and alcohol resides primarily in body water, according to the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University. In addition, even one drink a day puts women at a higher risk for breast cancer.

Professor Gilbert told Iowa Now that women might seek help more often if women-based programs for drinking problems were developed specifically for them.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.