Women, mothers lead increases in U.S. binge drinking rates

By Brian P. Dunleavy
Study suggests "mommy drinking" -- drinking or alcohol consumption among women with children -- is on the rise. Photo courtesy of Needpix
Study suggests "mommy drinking" -- drinking or alcohol consumption among women with children -- is on the rise. Photo courtesy of Needpix

Nov. 26 (UPI) -- A new study shows that women without children still drink more than those with children -- and men without children still drink more than everybody -- but the number of women and parents who binge drink is up.

Researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, in a study published online Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, report that, for the most part, levels of binge drinking are up. Only men with children saw declines in the rate of their drinking or binge drinking.


Men and women with children reported consistently lower levels of binge drinking than those without children, but the number of adults who admit engaging in the practice has increased over the past decade.

But the study found that women between 20 and 40 years of age, both parents and non-parents, have significantly increased their alcohol consumption over the past decade. And the percentage of women with children who reported binge drinking increased from 17 percent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2018.


"Moms are often subject to increased scrutiny regarding their own health, and how their decisions impact the health of their children," study co-author Sarah McKetta, a doctoral candidate at Columbia, said in a statement. "We found that public concern over 'mommy drinking' is not supported by the data. It's still unknown why women are increasing drinking relative to men, but we encourage physicians to screen all adults -- not just select groups of men and women -- for alcohol use disorders and referring them to appropriate treatment."

McKetta and her team defined binge drinking as any occasion involving consumption of more than five drinks. Heavy alcohol use was defined as binge drinking at least five times during a 30-day period.

The researchers were interested in the phenomenon of "mommy drinking," and whether women who were parents were in fact showing different or increased drinking behavior.

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For their project, which was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, they studied trends in binge drinking and heavy drinking among 239,944 adults between 18 and 55 years of age from the National Health Interview Survey for the years 2006 to 2018.

Results were based on responses to questions about past-year alcohol use.


In general, men without children consistently reported the highest levels of binge drinking. However, nearly all groups increased binge drinking in the past decade. The largest increases in binge drinking were reported among women 30 to 44 years of age without children -- from 21 percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2018.

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For all women, the prevalence of heavy drinking in 2006 was indistinguishable from the prevalence in 2018, regardless of age group or parenting status, while the only group for whom binge drinking declined was young men between 18 and 29 years of age. Similarly, alcohol abstention decreased for all groups except for young men 18 to 29 with children.

By 2012, the authors found, the prevalence of binge drinking among young men with children -- 38.5 percent -- declined to below that of young women without children -- 39.2 percent -- and stayed lower thereafter.

"Our study demonstrated that trends in binge and heavy drinking over time were not differentiated by parenting status for women; rather, declines and increases over time were mainly attributable to sex and age," said senior author Katherine M. Keyes, associate professor of epidemiology. "We observed that men and women who parent drink less than those who do not, and men who parent drink more than women who parent."


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