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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2002 Mar-Apr;10(2):76-85.

Women and alcohol use disorders.

Author information

  • 1Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass 02478, USA.

Erratum in

  • Harv Rev Psychiatry 2002 Jul-Aug;10(4):254.


Although substance abuse and dependence have been increasing among women in the United States for some time, only during the past two decades have researchers started to focus on women and alcohol use disorders. In the past all-male samples were generally used because they were much more easily available; when mixed-gender populations were examined, women were often underrepresented. Gender bias was evident in research on alcohol dependence even in the early 1990s. A critical review of addiction specialty journals in 1995 concluded that researchers still commonly used male populations and generalized the findings to both sexes. Recent studies on gender differences in alcohol use disorders have found that compared to men, women become intoxicated after drinking half as much, metabolize alcohol differently, develop cirrhosis of the liver more rapidly, and have a greater risk of dying from alcohol-related accidents. This article reviews the existing literature, focusing on four central questions: (1) Are alcohol use disorders becoming increasingly prevalent in women, thereby closing the gender gap between men and women? (2) Do the physical effects of alcohol differ by gender, and if so, why? (3) Do men and women differ in frequency and type of treatment services sought for alcohol use disorders? (4) What role does gender play in the process of recovery from alcohol dependence?

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