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 and depression.

In 2008, 63.1 percent of adults aged 18 years and older were current drinkers (had at least one alcoholic drink in the past year; data not shown). This varies, however, by sex. Overall, women were less likely than men to have consumed any alcohol in the past year (57.3 versus 69.2 percent, respectively).

While more than half of women had consumed alcohol in the past year, most of them reported infrequent or light drinking. Fewer than 28 percent of women reported light drinking (3 or fewer drinks per week), and 17.1 percent reported infrequent drinking (1–11 drinks total in the past year).

The frequency of alcohol consumption among women varies by age. Women aged 65 and older were most likely not to have consumed alcohol in the past year (62.5 percent), followed by women aged 18–24 and 45–64 years (42.0 and 38.9 percent, respectively). Women aged 18–24 years were, however, more likely than women of other ages to be heavy drinkers (8.2 percent), while women aged 25–44 years were most likely to have reported light drinking (35.1 percent).

While the rate of arrests for driving under the influence has decreased slightly from 1999 to 2008 (from 5.4 to 4.8 per 1,000 people, respectively, among reporting agencies), the proportion of females arrested for this crime has increased during that time. In 2008, females accounted for 21.4 percent of arrests reported for driving under the influence, compared to 15.8 percent in 1999 (data not shown).2

1 Mayo Clinic. Food and Nutrition, Alcohol Use: Why moderation is key [online] Aug 2008. www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol/SC00024, accessed 11/27/09.
2 U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Crime in the United States, 2008. [online] September 2009.  www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/index.html, accessed 11/27/09.


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