Category Archives: News

Environmental toxins are seen as posing risks during pregnancy


Leading up to and during pregnancy, women are told to avoid alcohol and cigarettes, to make sure they get enough folate and omega-3 fatty acids, and to get adequate sleep and exercise. Most are told little or nothing about reducing their exposure to chemicals despite evidence suggesting that ingredients in plastics, vehicle exhaust and cosmetics additives can have profound impacts on babies’ health.

In recent years, the field of ­maternal-fetal medicine has started to respond. In 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a committee opinion, reaffirmed this year, “calling for timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents while addressing the consequences of such exposure.” The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics voiced a similar opinion in 2015, and the following year nearly 50 prominent U.S. doctors and scientists created Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks to call for reducing chemical exposures that can interfere with fetal and children’s brain development.

Yet, a recent survey suggests that most doctors don’t discuss exposure to pollutants with their pregnant patients.

“Fetal development is a critical window of human development, and so any toxic exposure during that time, during pregnancy, doesn’t only have a short-term effect at that moment, but really an effect that lasts the entire lifetime,” said Nathaniel DeNicola, who was on the committee that reaffirmed the ACOG opinion.

In 2011, University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) researcher Tracey Woodruff and colleagues reported finding traces of dozens of harmful chemicals in 99 percent or more of the 268 pregnant women whose urine they analyzed; among them were organochlorine pesticides, perchlorate, phthalates and cancer-causing compounds found in vehicle exhaust and smoke.

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CBC: The lonely road to recovery: How isolation can hurt people trying to overcome addictions

Cutting social connections and challenges making new ones can lead people back to using, experts say

Phil Goss is now a peer advocate at Winnipeg’s Main Street Project, the organization where he sought help for a meth and heroin addiction when he was struggling. (Aidan Geary/CBC)


Phil Goss’s road to recovery started on the highway, in the passenger seat next to a 23-year-old Manitoba pig farmer who offered him a joint.

Goss was 37 or 38, “hopeless and helpless” and at the end of his rope as he tried to kick a heroin habit he started when he was 15. He was hitchhiking from Vancouver, where he’d been living, back to Toronto, where he’s from, when the pig farmer gave him a ride and suggested he smoke the joint.

“I didn’t want to do that, because I was on the highway and I didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to keep my wits about me somewhat,” Goss recalls years later, sitting in his cozy, cluttered office at Winnipeg’s Main Street Project.

“And I declined, and the conversation went from there to addiction, alcoholism, blah blah blah.”

Suddenly, the pig farmer was telling Goss about his dad, his alcoholism and how he got help at the Alcoholism Foundation of Manitoba — now the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

Then he was driving Goss there, and dropping him off at the front doors. He didn’t have Manitoba health insurance, so staff gave him cab fare to get to Main Street Project — a low-barrier shelter with addictions services where he now works as a peer advocate.

“Luck happened for me,” he says.

With help, Goss stopped using. But without drugs, he had nobody: not his family, who were a province away and estranged besides, and not friends — he didn’t know how to talk to people sober, and all his old friends still used.

“Near the end, I got pretty down. Pretty low,” he says. “I’m sure that if I kept on doing what I was doing, I would be dead.”

Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project, says he hopes to foster an increase in social programs that aren’t just structured around therapy, like a women’s spa day spearheaded by a former client earlier this year.(CBC)


Goss’s experience isn’t unique. Experts say isolation is a critical barrier to recovery for many with addictions, and some say they want to see more programming to help people deal with it and recovery in general.

“The general society could look at the substance being the problem, but I think often feeling isolated, feeling alone, is such a strong feeling that there could be relapse or a return to old patterns,” says Melissa Piper, the supervisor of the women’s in-house program for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

“Not necessarily the substance being the first reason, but because, as humans, we need attachments, we need social connections, we need relationships.”

‘Constant feeling’ of fear

A long-awaited review of Manitoba’s mental health and addictions services released in May describes a “perfect storm” of poorly co-ordinated, underfunded services in the province that lag behind the rest of the country.

The Virgo report noted that in the past five years, the number of people whose methamphetamine use was noted by emergency room health-care workers rose dramatically, shooting up from about 10 per month in 2013 to 190 per month in 2017.

It called for increased funds for mental health and addictions services, as well as greater crisis supports and collaboration between primary and community-based treatment services.

Goss says he felt those gaps. When he wasn’t using, he had a “constant feeling” of fear, and fear kept him alone.

“You can only be isolated for so long and then you want to get into the action again, and there’s only one way you know how to do it,” he says. “You start drinking or using drugs again.”

For many people who use, the substance they’re using can become a pervasive part of their social groups, Piper says. Trying to quit often means leaving social connections behind.

“We see that in our detox all the time.… Clients will come to detox for their addiction, but they get drawn back to the people outside, right?” says Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project.

“They miss their friends.”

Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project, says he wants to see more community-building and mental health groups to help people with addictions. (CBC)


And Lees says finding new friends is easier said than done.

“You manage to make the transition out, but now what? How do you create a new community for yourself?” Lees says.

“You’re alienated on both sides: you’re neither a non-user nor a user. You’re a person who’s now in recovery for the rest of your life.”

Michael Ellery, a clinical psychologist who specializes in dealing with addictions, says building new connections is “essential.”

“Connectedness really seems to be the antidote to addiction,” he says.

Filling up the hole

Many treatment programs, such as short-term detox, create isolation intentionally, based on the principle of “changing your playpen, your playmates and your playthings,” Ellery says.

“What that seems to be based on is that it recognizes this need to completely reorganize your social group,” he says. “It can be isolating, at first, because you don’t know how to socialize, necessarily, without your drug of choice.”

Ellery attributes the success of programs such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous — or non-religious versions like Smart Recovery — not simply to the techniques taught there, but also to the group meeting structure that brings people together.

Goss says he met the woman who turned it around for him at an AA meeting. They later got married, and Goss says his relationship gave him the purpose he needed to leave drugs and alcohol behind for good.

“What are we all looking for? We’re looking to fill up that hole or fix the hole,” he says.

“Basically, it all stems around the same thing, that hole you have to fill up in your heart, somehow.”

‘Hope is a big thing’

To create connectedness, experts say a broad range of community-based resources should be developed, and some of them already exist.

In the past two years, Piper has seen more services along those lines pop up in Winnipeg, including Refuge Recovery — a Buddhism and mindfulness-based program — and Crystal Meth Anonymous, which started last fall. She’s optimistic that momentum will continue.

“I think that developing different community support including aftercare programs and meetings in the community and even counselling and mental health supports are important,” she says.

Melissa Piper, supervisor of the women’s in-house program for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, says community support and aftercare programs are key to addressing addictions. (Submitted by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba)


At Main Street Project, Lees says he’s hoping to foster an increase in social programs that aren’t just structured around therapy, like a women’s spa day spearheaded by a former client earlier this year.

But Goss says there are too many gaps in the system as people move through social services, and Ellery says there aren’t enough resources to fill them.

“In general, addiction and mental health treatment and resources across the country are under-resourced. We have a severe shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists. Manitoba in particular has an especially bad shortage of both,” he says.

“There’s just not enough resources for everybody. It can be difficult sometimes to even access medically supervised detox, for instance.”

He’d also like to see the development of more non-religious treatment groups like Smart Recovery, which he helped get off the ground in Manitoba.

For Goss, offering people struggling with substance abuse a chance to have social success is a way to offer them a crucial element in recovery: hope.

“Hope is a big thing,” Goss says.

“[They’re wondering,] ‘OK, so now I’m sober — what am I going to do now?’ Keep your arms around them and then offer them something to do.”

Indigenous elder mentorship program leads to healthier babies in Wetaskiwin area

Elder Margaret Montour was an important support for Lacey Hoffman when she was pregnant with her son Aziel. (CBC)

Lacey Hoffman was nervous about attending her prenatal appointments by herself. As a teen expecting her first baby, she worried that others were judging her.

“It wasn’t fun being the youngest one,” recalled Hoffman. “I felt like people were looking at me, thinking that was sad or something like that.”

Now 18, Hoffman said she had the support of her mother and sister but they weren’t always able to join her for appointments at the Wetaskiwin Primary Care Network.

On those days, she had support from Elder Margaret Montour. 

“It was nice to have someone to talk to, to not be alone,” Hoffman told CBC News. 

Montour has been offering support and companionship to pregnant women since 2016 as part of The Elder’s Mentoring Program, a community-based program organized through a partnership between the Maskwacis community and the University of Alberta. 

“You have to be sure that a mother is attending her appointments,” explained Montour, who is from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, about 20 kilometres south of Wetaskiwin.

“That’s one way that I encourage them when I sit down to talk with them one-on-one.”

Connecting through culture

Elder Muriel Lee, from the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, joined the program in 2015 when it was first established as a pilot project.

“I welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the life of a mother that’s expecting, that is going to bring life into this world,” said Lee. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Lee connects with pregnant women by sharing teachings and stories from her Cree culture.

“I tell them stories that were told to me about who the child is, about raising that child in our way,” she said. 

Lacey Hoffman’s son Aziel is wrapped up in a moss bag, a traditional Indigenous baby carrier that supports the spine. (Lacey Hoffman)


Lee and Montour both say that taking part in the program has been a fulfilling experience.

“It makes me feel good, being acknowledged,” said Montour. “I enjoy it.”

The elders offer to teach mothers about moss bags, a traditional Indigenous baby carrier that supports the baby’s spine and legs while keeping the child snugly wrapped.

It’s a gesture that Hoffman appreciated, since she was looking for a moss bag herself. It’s a tradition she wants to share with her young son Aziel.

“That moss bag was honestly a lifesaver for getting him to sleep at night,” she said with a laugh.

Hoffman doesn’t have her legal Indigenous status, but wants her son to grow up surrounded by his culture. 

“I just want him to be aware of it.”

Building trust 

The Elder’s Mentoring Program is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when obstetrician Mohammad Badawi sees his prenatal patients.

He said the elders help foster better communication, which in turn leads to a greater trust between the medical team and the patients. 

“If we can’t get information, or we can’t deliver the care that we are hoping to deliver, we find that the elder is the avenue to get to that point,” said Badawi.

Badawi has noticed that his patients are more engaged in their prenatal care since the program has been introduced.

“We saw more compliance, more followup and more adherence to health care and being seen in the prenatal course,” he said.  

The elders have also taught the staff to be more understanding and culturally sensitive, said Badawi.

Elders Margaret Montour, left, and Muriel Lee demonstrate how to wrap up a baby in a traditional moss bag.(CBC)

Research component 

The program was developed over several years of community engagement, led by U of A associate researcher Richard Oster.

“Following that course, believing that if we were to build those relationships, that the program would thrive from that, I think that’s been the key to our success,” he said.

Oster’s research is qualitative and looks at how culturally sensitive care leads to healthier outcomes in pregnancy and after birth.

The feedback has been positive, said Oster. 

“This program offers a platform for enhanced support, which is exactly what we intended,” he said. 

The program’s current funding, through Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS), will run out at the end of the year.

Oster is looking for other financing options to keep the program going, including the possibility of receiving funds from the PCN clinic. 

For Hoffman, the program’s value is obvious. 

“It’s a good idea, not just for Indigenous women but anyone who is alone in their pregnancy,” said Hoffman. “It’s not fun having no support, it’s kind of lonely.”

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PBS: The story about drinking while pregnant that got our newsroom talking


On PBS NewsHour, National Correspondent Amna Nawaz reports from Minnesota on a subject often referred to as the “invisible disability:” Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, which can occur when a mother drinks during pregnancy. Symptoms, which include impulse control, hyperactivity and short attention span, can look a lot like ADHD, and a recent study shows that as much as 5 percent of the U.S. population could be affected. This means it could be more common than autism. Many children with FASD go through multiple misdiagnoses and many don’t ever get diagnosed.

Here Nawaz joins producer Lorna Baldwin and Dr. Amber Robins, a NewsHour medical fellow, to discuss the reporting that went into the piece and the people they met living with the disorder.

From: Amna Nawaz
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2018 12:19 PM
To: Lorna Baldwin; Amber Robins
Subject: Reporting the FASD story

I’ll be honest, when we first launched on this story, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was not something I knew much about. I went through two pregnancies and deliveries in the last five years. The journalist in me read and studied aaalllll the information I could during that time. Or so I thought. How did I not know more about something as serious as FASD? How many other women out there were in the same boat?

That’s why it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that awareness is still – 45 years after FASD was first defined– one of the biggest challenges for advocates. That most women aren’t aware that we have no idea how much or how little alcohol can cause FASD. That, yes, a glass of wine every now and again in your third trimester might be totally fine, or it might cause irreparable brain damage in your baby. And that it all rides on a complicated matrix of chemistry and genetics and neurobiology that the science has not yet figured out (because how many pregnant women would volunteer as subjects in that study?)

I know of more friends than I can count who had a drink every now and again during their pregnancies. During my own third trimesters, I drank an occasional glass of wine. Reporting this story, it broke my heart to hear mothers share the guilt and shame they felt talking openly about their alcohol consumption. And while I was baffled to learn what we don’t yet know about FASD, I was also deeply disturbed by everything we do.

From: Lorna Baldwin
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2018 12:50 PM
To: Amna Nawaz; Amber Robins
Subject: Re: Reporting the FASD story

Amna, you’re not alone. Disturbed, baffled and surprised are all words that describe what went through my head when this assignment came my way too. As we dove into the research phase, and made calls to experts, I kept coming back to the same question — why isn’t there more known about FASD? And why does a 100 percent preventable disorder afflict so many people? The answer, as we found out, is complicated.

When I rather unscientifically polled friends and family members to see what they knew, it was very little. And more than one person said their doctor told them a drink now and then while pregnant was “no big deal.” That flies in the face of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines, which we looked up dating back to September 1986: no amount of alcohol use is safe during pregnancy. And that led to a question I kept asking Amber – why is it that some doctors are giving women advice that doesn’t mesh with the professional guidelines? Again, we found out, the answer is complicated.

Read more of their learnings here

CBC: More supports needed for people with FASD, say advocates

Maxim Baril-Blouin, who had FASD, died of a suspected drug overdose at the Edmonton Remand Centre.(Sylvie Salomon)


People diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) need lifelong supports, but the disorder is often misunderstood, say advocates. 

The recent overdose death of Maxim Baril-Blouin, who had FASD, at the Edmonton Remand Centre has sparked conversations about the needs of people living with the disability. 

Baril-Blouin’s mother was advocating for better supports for her son at the time of his death.

“There is always more demand than what we have to offer, ” said Lisa Rogozinsky, who coordinates the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network (EFAN).

People with FASD have different needs depending on where they fall on the spectrum, she said. 

“Some of the common areas of impairment that we see are in cognitive ability,” said Rogozinsky. “Attention span, memory, language, their reasoning, judgment, and decision making.”  

About 500 babies a year are born with FASD in Alberta, and about 46,000 Albertans are living with the disorder, according to the provincial government. 

Lifelong supports needed

Local agencies that contribute to EFAN work together to find appropriate services for their clients.

“We basically try to meet a fair amount of the issues that can occur across a lifespan,” said Denise Plesuk, program manager at Catholic Social Services in Edmonton.

The agency offers programs to support people with FASD and their families.

“Some of our programs do have waiting lists, and that’s partly why we’ve expanded into doing more group work,” said Plesuk.

People with FASD need lifelong one-on-one supports, said Rogozinsky, which includes supportive housing.

“We need to provide a sense of belonging to this population that has often fallen through every crack of every system,” she said. 

A tragic case

Maxim Baril-Blouin, who was diagnosed with FASD at a young age, died July 13th at the Edmonton Remand Centre of an apparent fentanyl overdose. 

The 26-year-old man from Whitehorse was court-ordered to live in a supervised environment, but there were no supports for him in the Yukon, said his mother Sylvie Salomon. 

Baril-Blouin had been under the care of a private Stony Plain agency, I Have A Chance Support Services (IHAC) since January. 

He was charged with uttering threats against an employee of the agency on June 19th. 

“They broke all our trust. They failed Maxim big, big time,” Salomon told CBC News. 

Sylvie Salomon says her adopted son Maxim Baril-Blouin suffered from FASD, and needed constant supervision. (Sylvie Salomon)


She questions the training and practices of the IHAC employees who were looking after him.

“You take someone in, you shouldn’t put them in jail,” said Salomon. “They knew the challenge, they advertise being able to take care of someone like my son.”

IHAC said they couldn’t comment on Baril-Blouin’s case for privacy reasons.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Baril-Blouin,” wrote executive director Lory Morgan in an emailed statement. “Due to client and employee confidentiality requirements we are unable to further comment.”

FASD and the justice system

People with FASD frequently get tangled up in the criminal justice system, both as perpetrators and victims of crime, said Rogozinsky.

They are particularly vulnerable because their disability is not visible, she added. 

“The justice system is just assuming that this is an individual that is functioning at a completely age appropriate level, which may not always be the case.”

People with FASD also tend to be easily manipulated, said Plesuk.

“Quite often, people with FASD want to please other people and they don’t always understand consequences,” explained Plesuk. “They will often get tangled up with people who will use them to commit crimes.”

They also struggle with understanding what other people are saying, she said.

“They need time to process the information. They need instructions that are very short and concrete, one or two things at a time.”

Supporting expecting mothers

Shaming and blaming expecting mothers who consume alcohol is counterproductive, said Rogozinsky.

“FASD is not a women’s issue, it’s a community issue,” she said. “Let’s make sure we are addressing the reasons behind a woman’s alcohol consumption in pregnancy.”

Complete abstinence from alcohol is the safest route, said Rogozinsky, as it is not known what constitutes a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. 

People also need to recognize how their own behaviour influences expecting mothers, said Plesuk.

“If we know someone who is pregnant, are we offering them wine? Are we offering them a drink or are we offering them some non-alcoholic choices?” she said. “We often forget about that piece.” 


Josee St-Onge


Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at

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Meet “Generation Sober”: Why Millennials Aren’t Drinking Anymore

There was a time when Jacques Martiquet couldn’t imagine a night out without a drink. Extroverted and charming, the 22-year-old UBC pharmacology graduate nonetheless felt nervous about stepping onto the dance floor without a social lubricant. “I used to be a pretty anxious kid, and I wouldn’t dance in public,” he admits.

How times have changed. As the founder of Party4Health, Martiquet has organized more than 40 sober events, altogether attracting more than 1,500 participants in the past year. These have included bike raves, hike raves and undie runs—all of which have involved dancing in public, often in costume and sometimes in his underwear—without the benefit of liquid courage.

Martiquet is part of a growing cohort of young people who are turning the tide on drinking culture. The latest statistics from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) show that although per-capita alcohol consumption is rising in B.C., more young people are cutting back. Tim Stockwell, director of CISUR, says his research shows a “disconnect” between young adults and older people’s habits. “Overall, drinking is going up, but the share of drinking in young adults is slightly down,” he explains.

It’s not just a B.C. trend. Across Canada, the fastest-growing group of “risky drinkers” are not teenagers but women over 35. In the United States, Nielsen research indicates that 18-to-34-year-olds are drinking less than other age groups, while in the U.K. official drinking rates are at historic lows for people aged under 24.

So, is sobriety cool now?

At the very least, so-called “mindful drinking” is becoming acceptable for health-conscious Vancouverites. In the past year, between 100 and 700 people have turned out for free Party4Health bike raves, umbrella dances and morning beach parties. Before he founded Party4Health in January last year, Martiquet helped run morning Wake n Shake pre-work yoga dance parties that regularly attracted about 100 people and inspired him to start his own organization.


And you can expect sobriety to gain even more momentum when U.S.-based Daybreaker officially launches in Vancouver. The group, which runs sober 6 a.m. “yoga raves” in 26 cities worldwide, has advertised for people to run YVR events that involve an hour of yoga followed by two hours of dancing.

The popularity of in-person dry events reflects a growth of global online support groups for non-drinkers and “sober curious” individuals. U.K.-based Club Soda and Australian-based Hello Sunday Morning are two international brands that claim thousands of Canadians among their digital following, including hundreds of Vancouver members.

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Alcohol Consumption Among Women Is on the Rise

pouring wine

Laura McKowen says she enjoyed drinking alcohol before she became a mother and would imbibe a few times a week as part of a successful advertising career and active social life. But she says her problem drinking really started after she gave birth to a daughter in 2009.

“The drinking changed for me then,” she says. “I was struggling really hard to adjust to things: being a new mom, a cross-country move, losing my job. My nerves were shot, so I drank more, thinking it would help me sleep, help me cope, but it made me worse.”

McKowen, who lives in North Shore, MA, says as time went on, her drinking started earlier in the day and booze would be part of play dates. She and her friends would do yoga and then go out and drink wine. Her book club was all moms in their 30s, drinking like they did in their 20s. And alcohol even started to show up at birthday parties for 1- and 2-year-olds.

“It didn’t matter that I had to go and breastfeed or parent when I got home. It didn’t stop anything,” she recalls.

McKowen didn’t realize it at the time, but she had joined an unenviable — and growing — group: Women with alcohol disorders. Recent research has shown the gap between men and women with drinking problems is shrinking. Female alcohol use disorder in the United States more than doubled from 2002 to 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Even though she didn’t drink all day, every day, McKowen says alcohol was a daily habit and she knew she relied on it too much. Hangovers were common. So was blacking out for hours at night after putting her daughter to bed and self-medicating by combining wine with the sleep medication Ambien. “I didn’t know how to be in my own skin without drinking,” she explains.

She separated from her husband, got a DUI, and knew she was headed down a bad path. But she says she didn’t start to consider getting sober until an incident with her daughter. She got drunk and blacked out at a wedding, and her family had to step in to watch over her child.

“I put her in danger at the wedding. I left her unattended for a long period of time. She was 4,” McKowen says. “I knew eventually, I would lose custody of my daughter if I kept drinking. It was inevitable. I knew I would lose pretty much everything.”

Even so, it took McKowen a year to get serious about sobriety. She eventually started going to AA meetings, returned to the practice of yoga, and began chronicling her recovery on a blogand podcast that connected her to other moms going through the same thing. She now has nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram and has become an advocate for changing a culture she believes encourages moms, and women in general, to drink.

“It’s so socially acceptable. Even if you drink a lot, it’s not seen as weird,” McKowen says. “People just say — of course you drink. We do too. Moms need it. Cheers.”

The Rise in Drinking Among Women

The data on the rise of alcohol consumption and abuse by women are staggering. Historically, men have been the ones to drink far more alcohol, but numerous studies show that is changing on a variety of fronts: alcohol use, binge drinking, alcohol use disorders, driving under the influence of alcohol, and more. Studies differ on the percentage increase, but all support a clear and troubling trend of more alcohol consumption among women:

  • Female alcohol use disorder in the United States increased by 83.7% between 2002 and 2013, according to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
  • High-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women, is on the rise among women by about 58%, according to a 2017 study comparing habits from 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.
  • A 2018 study found a steep rise in the rate of alcohol-related ER visits between 2006 and 2014, and increases were larger for women than men.
  • Death from liver cirrhosis rose in women from 2000 to 2013.

“Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing,” says Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the director of the NIAAA. Female drinking is starting earlier, too.

Another 2017 study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found narrowing gender gaps as early as high school and middle school. Male drinking used to far surpass female drinking at all levels from eighth through 12th grades, but that’s changed dramatically over the last 20 years.

“Now, by eighth grade, more females than males are drinking. Females are now, for the first time in history, more likely to drink in 10th grade than males; and by 12th grade, where there used to be a big gap 10 or 15 years ago, it’s now dead even,” White says .

This isn’t just a U.S. problem. A 2016 publication by Australian researchers who pooled  information from 68 studies in 36 countries with a total sample size of more than 4 million men and women found similar results.

Their analysis showed that while men born in 1891 were almost 2 ½ times more likely than women to drink alcohol, men and women born in 1991 were almost equally likely to drink. And of the 42 studies that showed converging alcohol use, most reported this was driven by higher rates of female drinking.

“This matters because often, the focus in the media and public debate is on young men and alcohol,” says lead author Tim Slade, PhD, an associate professor at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney, Australia. “It matters because, while women seek treatment for almost every other physical and mental health problem at higher rates than men, women who experience problems related to alcohol generally don’t seek treatment.”

The NIAAA says evidence of rising female alcohol use is also concerning because women are more likely than men to have a variety of alcohol-related health effects, including liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and cancer, says Deidra Roach, MD, medical project officer of the NIAAA Division of Treatment and Recovery Research. She says they are statistically more likely to black out from drinking too.

“Women are generally smaller than men and have less total body water and more total body fat,” Roach explains. “Blood alcohol level rises more quickly and stay elevated longer in women, so the harmful effects of alcohol, even if a man and woman drink same amount, will show up sooner in the women.”

“This is a very serious issue for women,” she says. “We need to do more in terms of getting this message out to young women and medical providers who work with young people. Because once you end up on the slippery slope of harmful drinking, it becomes difficult to reverse.”

A Cultural Shift?

The big question is: “Why?” What is behind the rise in women’s problem drinking? Roach says this isn’t fully understood, but she says some smaller studies and anecdotes show cultural norms around women’s drinking have changed dramatically over the past 100 years. “It’s gone from being taboo for women to drink at all to being expected in some settings, professional groups — even to drink to intoxication,” she says.

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