On November 26, a study published in the academic journal PLOS Medicine dispelled the popular idea that binge drinking is more prevalent among women with children than among women without children, the alleged basis of “mommy drinking culture.” According to researchers Sarah McKetta and Katherine Keyes of Columbia University, the incidence of binge drinking increased among mothers and non-mothers alike, as well as among men with and without children, from 2006 to 2018. Even still, mothers drank less alcohol during those years than did women who are not mothers.
The study examined data from the National Health Interview Survey, a product of the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey divided 239,944 American respondents by gender, parental status, and age group. The three age groups were 18 to 29, 30 to 44, and 45 to 55 years old. The respondents answered questions about their drinking habits. Among women between the ages of 30 and 44 years old, binge drinking among mothers increased from 17% in 2006 to 32% in 2018. Among non-mothers, binge drinking increased from 26% in 2006 to 44% in 2018. Binge drinking for women is typically defined as having at least four drinks in under two hours.
The researchers found a similar increase among all other cohorts, with one exception. Men between the ages of 18 and 29 years old with children comprised the only group which exhibited a decline in binge drinking over the 12-year survey period. Despite a general increase in binge drinking, “men and women with children reported consistently lower levels of drinking than those without children,” the study concluded. “So that puts to bed the idea that there is something special about mommy drinking. It seems we need to be worried about everyone,” McKetta explained.
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Another recent study has found that binge drinking is a growing problem among the elderly population in the United States as well. In October, researchers from New York University published a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society which reported that 10.6% of respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health over the age of 65 years old admitted to binge drinking within one month of the survey. To craft this statistic, the researchers utilized survey responses from 2015, 2016, and 2017. By contrast, less than 9% of elderly respondents to the same survey from 2005 to 2014 admitted to binge drinking, suggesting that America’s senior citizens are starting to drink more.
The criteria for binge drinking (four drinks for women, five for men) are the same for the elderly as they are for younger adults. However, since the effects of alcohol can worsen health problems in older men and women, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advises that people over 65 years old have no more than three drinks each day.
The increase in binge drinking is not exclusively confined to the United States. The world on average is drinking more alcohol, according to a German-Canadian study published in The Lancet earlier this year. Alcohol consumption per capita increased from 5.9 liters of pure ethanol in 1990 to 6.5 liters in 2017. The researchers analyzed alcohol intake in 189 countries. They project that alcohol consumption will further increase to 7.6 liters per capita by 2030. While population growth may influence this pattern, the researchers found that the number of alcohol drinkers is not growing as rapidly as the rate of the volume of alcohol consumed per capita, indicating that many people are indeed drinking more alcohol.
In Europe, hitherto the region of the world with the highest rate of individual alcohol consumption, the study discovered that alcohol consumption has actually fallen by 12% from 2010 to 2017. Now, developing countries in Asia and Africa are leading the global increase in drinking. For example, per capita alcohol consumption increased in Vietnam by a staggering 90% over the course of those seven years.
Nathan Yerby is a writer and researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.
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