Women with alcohol problems tend to seek help an average of four to five years earlier than men with alcohol problems, according to new research.
For the study, researchers analyzed information from 274 men and 257 women in substance abuse treatment programs. They found that women had sought treatment after about 10 years of having an alcohol problem, compared with about 15 years for men.
The findings also show that both genders typically start drinking on a regular basis at about the same age — average age was 19 for women and 18 for men — and that self-reported drinking problems begin in the early 20s for both genders.
The findings are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
“Historically, alcoholism has been considered a ‘male disease’ due to its markedly higher prevalence among men,” said study corresponding author Ben Lewis, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the psychiatry department at the University of Florida.
“More recently it has been recognized that while men may have a higher prevalence, women may be uniquely vulnerable to negative consequences of chronic drinking.”
Although the study did not determine the reason why women seek treatment earlier than men, the fact that they do is still important information for doctors and other health care providers, said Rosemary Fama, Ph.D., senior research scientist and senior research neuropsychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine and SRI International, who was not involved in the study.
Fama suggested that females may attach less social stigma to alcohol abuse than males, and they may be more open to admitting that they have a drinking problem and need professional help to overcome it.
“The bottom line is that hopefully these results will raise awareness concerning the restricted time window between alcohol problems and the development of sufficient negative consequences to prompt seeking treatment among women,” study author Lewis said.
“These findings emphasize the need for greater attention to women’s issues, determining sex-specific risk factors, as well as identifying subgroups most likely to require treatment,” he said.
“Additionally, there must be a greater awareness of the importance of intervening when alcohol problems are first experienced. If we are able to develop appropriate interventions, we may mitigate the need for inpatient treatment for some of these women.”