U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Alcohol Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that, in small amounts, can have a relaxing effect. Although there is some debate over the health benefits of small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly, the negative health effects of excessive alcohol use and abuse are well established.1 Short-term effects can include increased risk of motor vehicle injuries, falls, intimate partner violence, and child abuse. Long-term effects can include pancreatitis, high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis, various cancers, and psychological disorders, including alcohol dependency. In 2007, 39.6 percent of women aged 18 years and older were current drinkers (had at least one alcoholic drink in the past year; data not shown).

Non-Hispanic White women were most likely to be current drinkers (46.1 percent), followed by non-Hispanic women of other races (35.7 percent) and non-Hispanic Black women (27.6 percent). Women with higher household incomes were more likely than women with lower incomes to be current drinkers, and this was true for every racial and ethnic group. For instance, 34.4 percent of Hispanic women with incomes of 200 percent or more of poverty were current drinkers, compared to 15.0 percent of those with incomes below 100 percent of poverty.

Among current drinkers, the level of alcohol consumption varies by sex. In 2007, women were more likely than men to have consumed alcohol infrequently (1–11 drinks in the past year) or to have engaged in light alcohol consumption (3 or fewer drinks per week). More than half of women who drank in the past year were considered light drinkers (50.8 percent), compared to 45.2 percent of men. Men, however, were much more likely than women to be moderate drinkers (between 4 and 7 drinks for women or between 4 and 14 drinks for men): 32.0 percent of men and 13.4 percent of women were moderate drinkers.

The average number of drinks consumed by current drinkers in the past year also varied by sex. On average, men consumed more drinks on days when they drank at all than women (3.0 versus 2.0 drinks, respectively; data not shown).

1 Mayo Clinic. Food and Nutrition, Alcohol Use: Why moderation is key [online] Aug 2008. www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol/SC00024, accessed 03/03/09.

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