The rate of alcohol use among adults in the U.S. increased from 65% in 2001-2002 to 73% in 2012-2013, according to survey results of nearly 80,000 people conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry.  Along with the overall increase in drinking, the rate of high risk drinking (more than two drinks a day for men, one for women) increased by 30%, and alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) rose almost 50%.  Although men still drink more than women (77% vs 69%) the overall rate of increase among men was 7%, while the rate increase for women was more than double at 16%. This disparity held true for high risk drinking and alcoholism as well, with high risk drinking in men increasing 15% vs 58% in women and the alcoholism rate increasing by 35% in men vs 84% for women. (Percents have been rounded)   

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According to the results of this study, alcohol use is clearly on the rise. Its relation to overall health as a risk factor for many of the top killers in our country – namely cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, liver disease, pancreatitis, type II diabetes, makes it a public health priority.  

The dramatic rise in alcohol use by women is particularly concerning given the potential effects on reproductive health. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, excessive alcohol use by women can:

  • disrupt the menstrual cycle and increase the risk of infertility.
  • increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery.
  • increase the risk of unprotected sex and multiple sex partners which in turn increases the risks

of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

  • increase the risk of having a baby die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Additionally, alcohol increases a women’s risk of other health issues differently than men including:

  • Liver disease: Women who drink are at greater risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases than are men.
  • Brain damage: Women who drink are more vulnerable to the brain damaging effects of excessive alcohol and the damage occurs within a shorter periods of excessive drinking, than it does in men.


  • Heart damage: Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle than men, even for women drinking at lower levels.
  • Cancer: Women who drink are at increased risk of breast cancer with the risk increasing as alcohol use increases.

If you are female and are one of the 73% of adults who drink and especially if you have more than  one drink a day, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers the following strategies to help you reduce your alcohol intake and lower your risk of disease:

Keep track of how much you drink. Carry a drinking tracker card in your wallet, make check marks on a kitchen calendar, or enter notes in a mobile phone notepad or personal digital assistant. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.

Count your drinks accurately. Know the standard drink sizes standard drink sizes so you can count your drinks accurately.

Measure drinks at home. Away from home, it can be hard to keep track, especially with mixed drinks, and at times, you may be getting more alcohol than you think. With wine, you may need to ask the host or server not to "top off" a partially filled glass.

Set goals. Decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you'll have on those days. It's a good idea to have some days when you don't drink. People who always stay within the low-risk limits when they drink have the lowest rates of alcohol-related problems.

Pace and space when you drink. Sip slowly. Have no more than one alcoholic drink per hour. Have "drink spacers"—make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice.

Eat, don't drink on an empty stomach. Eat some food so the alcohol will be absorbed into your system more slowly.

Find alternatives to drinking. If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, fill free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing ones you've missed. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, then seek other, healthy ways to deal with those areas of your life.

Avoid triggers that urge you to drink. If certain people or places make you drink even when you don't want to, try to avoid them. If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking. If drinking at home is a problem, keep little or no alcohol there.

Plan to handle urges when you can’t avoid a trigger. When an urge hits, consider these options:
Remind yourself of your reasons for changing
Keep them with you in writing or stored on your phone
Also, see the short module to help you handle urges to drink.

Know your “no”. When you're offered a drink and don't want one, have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to go along.
Also, see the short module to help you build drink refusal skills.

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Frequently asked questions on alcohol

Women and alcohol

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


Alcoholics Anonymous


Harvard University – Help Guide