Women, Girls and Alcohol

Women, Girls and Alcohol


The gender gap in underage drinking has closed. Young girls are drinking more than underage boys. 

Students reporting that they have had a drink in the last 30 days:1 

  Girls Boys
 Eighth-graders  19.8% 19.4%
 10th-graders  35.3% 35.3%
 12th-graders  43.8% 51.7%

• According to 2003 data, more ninth-grade girls consume alcohol now than do ninth-grade boys. More ninth-grade girls than ninth-grade boys also report binge drinking.

Ninth-grade students reporting alcohol use:2

 Ninth-Grade Girls Ninth-Grade Boys 
Drank alcohol in last 30 days   38.5% 33.9%

Engaged in binge drinking

(5+ drinks on same occasion in last 30 days)

 20.9% 18.8%

Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising: 

Girls are significantly more likely than boys to be overexposed to alcohol advertising in magazines, as seen in a study from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth that analyzed alcohol advertising in magazines in 2002.

• Girls, ages 12 to 20, saw 68% more beer advertising than women of legal age on a per capita basis in magazines in 2002, while boys, ages 12 to 20, saw 29% more beer advertising than men on a per capita basis.3 

• Girls saw 30% more distilled spirits advertising per capita than women in magazines in 2002, while boys saw almost as much as men.4 

• Girls saw 95% more magazine advertising for low-alcohol refreshers (also called “alcopops” or “malternatives”) than women per capita in 2002, while boys saw 37% more than men. Girls' exposure to low-alcohol refresher magazine advertising increased by 216% from 2001 to 2002, while boys' exposure increased 46%.5 

• Sixteen alcoholic beverage brands (14 distilled spirits brands, one beer, and one low-alcohol refresher brand) accounted for half of the total magazine alcohol advertising exposure of girls ages 12 to 20 in 2002. Five of these 16 brands had greater exposure in magazines to underage girls per capita than to women ages 21 to 34.6 

Health Consequences: 

• Women generally drink less and less often than men. However, women drinkers are at higher risk for certain medical problems, including liver, brain, and heart damage, than are men who drink comparable amounts.7 

• Women metabolize alcohol differently than men. When women and men of the same body weight drink the same amount of alcohol, women reach higher peak blood alcohol levels.8 

• The USDA Dietary Guidelines reflect that women drinkers are at higher risk for alcohol-related health problems. The USDA prescribes that any alcohol use be done in moderation and defines moderation as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.9 

• Several meta-analyses have found that any consumption of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, and that the degree of risk rises as the level of consumption increases.10 

Risky Sexual Behavior and Sexual Assault: 

• It is estimated that teenage girls who binge drink are up to 63% more likely to become teen mothers.11 

• It is estimated that in 1998 more than 70,000 college students were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.12 

• In a survey done of prisoners in state jails in 1997, 40% of convicted rape and sexual assault offenders said that they were drinking at the time of their crime.13 

Domestic Violence: 

• Of domestic violence incidents reported by the victims, 67% involve an abusive partner who has been drinking.14 

• A study on substance abuse and domestic violence between 1993 and 1998 found that 57% of domestic violence incidents during those six years involved only alcohol, while 10% of incidents involved both alcohol and drug use. In contrast, only 11% of domestic violence incidents during those years involved only drug use, and only 21% involved no substance abuse at all.15 

Updated July 2005

1L.D. Johnston, P.M. O'Malley, J.G. Bachman and J.E. Schulenberg, Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2003, Volume I: Secondary School Students (Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2003).

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Youth 2003 Online," (cited 19 July 2004).

3David H. Jernigan, Joshua Ostroff, Craig Ross, and James A. O'Hara III, "Sex Differences in Adolescent Exposure to Alcohol Advertising in Magazines," Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 158 (July 2004): 629-634.

4"Sex Differences in Adolescent Exposure," 632.

5"Sex Differences in Adolescent Exposure," 631-632.

6"Sex Differences in Adolescent Exposure," 632.

7National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol's Effects?," Alcohol Alert 46 (December 1999).

8U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. 10th Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health, 254.

9United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, "Choose Sensibly," Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000, 5th edition.

10Thomas Babor et al., Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003): 69.

11T.S. Dee, "The Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Ages on Teen Childbearing," The Journal of Human Resources 36, no. 4 (2001): 824-838.

12R. Hingson et al., "Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24," Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63 no. 2 (March 2002): 136-144.

13L. Greenfield and M. Henneberg, "Alcohol, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System," Alcohol Policy XII Conference, Alcohol & Crime: Research and Practice for Prevention (Washington, DC: CSAP, 2000), 23-40.

14L. Greenfield and M. Henneberg, "Alcohol, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System."

15L. Greenfield and M. Henneberg, "Alcohol, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System."