A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently revealed some surprising data — alcohol leads to more deaths than all drug overdoses combined. Over the last two decades, alcohol-related deaths in the United States have risen by more than 50 percent. When only considering women, that number goes up to 85 percent. The largest increase was seen among middle-aged white women.
“More women are drinking, and they are drinking more,” says Patricia Powell, deputy director of the Alcohol Institute. And because women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men, they often feel the dangerous side-effects of alcohol faster. This means women have a higher risk of suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, heart disease, and brain damage.
But why are women drinking so much more than they were 20 years ago? Some academics believe it’s because of how normalized drinking has become. With countless articles boasting the benefits of wine and “wellness” classes that combine yoga and beer popping up all over the country, it’s hard to argue with claims that we have become an alcohol-centric culture. Another factor that may be causing more women to drink is stress. “They’re working, they’re taking care of children, they’re exhausted, and they need some kind of outlet. Having a few glasses of wine kind of does the trick for them,” says Susan Stewart, Ph.D., a professor at Iowa State University.
Although having a glass or two a night to unwind from a hectic day may seem harmless, when alcohol is used as a means of self-medication it can develop into a dangerous habit or spiral into a full-blown addiction. As shown in the study, excessive drinking can lead to death, not only by overdose, but also due to car accidents, accidental injuries, suicide, homicide, and a multitude of alcohol-related health problems.