Women born after 1944 began drinking alcohol at younger ages than their elders, and that appears to have put them at greater risk for alcoholism, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers compared data from two surveys of alcohol use: the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, gathered in 1991 and 1992, and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which was compiled 10 years later.
The study found that:
• On average, women born before 1944 began drinking at age 20. Those born after that started drinking alcohol at age 17, and they had a 50 percent to 80 percent greater risk for alcohol dependence.
• Women born during the 'high risk' period, after 1944, also began drinking earlier than their predecessors, and this earlier drinking might explain the higher rates of alcoholism. As the age of drinking onset got lower for women, the rates of alcohol dependence increased.
• Both men and women born between 1944 and 1963 began drinking at younger ages than those born between 1934 and 1943, but the drop in age at the time that drinking began was twice as large in women (3.2 years) as it was in men (1.6 years).
A sidebar to this study is that between 1970 and 1975, 29 states lowered the legal drinking age. Those laws were reversed 10 years later, but during the 1970s, when many of the women in these studies took their first drinks, it was legal to consume alcohol at age 18 rather than 21. According to Richard A. Grucza, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and first author on the study, legal drinking age is one of many factors influencing when a person begins to drink. In future studies Dr. Grucza and his colleagues plan to look more closely at the effects of drinking-age laws on both when a person begins to drink and their subsequent risk for alcohol dependence.
Source: Washington University School of Medicine, June 4, 2008