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Moms are binge drinking more, but so are all women, study finds

There's been a lot of media attention on the "mommy drinking phenomenon," but research shows it isn't substantiated.
Image: Woman drinking
Binge drinking rates are on the rise for nearly all Americans.naikon / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Moms are binge drinking more, but they’re not the only ones: According to a study released Tuesday, binge drinking rates are on the rise for nearly all groups of Americans, whether they have children or not.

“There had been a lot of media attention on the ‘mommy drinking phenomenon,’” said the study's lead author Sarah McKetta, a medical student and doctoral candidate at Columbia University.

But when McKetta took a closer look at the data on how women’s drinking habits have changed over a 12-year period, she found that the phenomenon “wasn’t substantiated.”

From 2006 to 2018, the rate of binge drinking in women with children rose at about the same pace as women without children, McKetta and her colleagues reported Tuesday in PLOS Medicine. Binge drinking refers to four or more drinks at once for women, and five or men for men.

Overall, most age groups of both genders saw increases in binge drinking from 2006 to 2018, with the unhealthy behavior still more common among men than women.

The researchers looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey from 2006 to 2018, which included information on 239,944 adults ages 18 to 55. Responses were broken down by gender and three age groups: 18 to 29, 30 to 44, and 45 to 55.

In the two older groups, researchers saw increases in binge drinking across the board.

For example, among women 30 to 44 in 2006, about 17 percent of moms reported binge drinking, McKetta noted. By 2018 that number had risen to 32 percent. But childless women in the same age group also saw an increase: In 2006, about 26 percent reported binge drinking, and by 2018 that number had risen to 44 percent, she said.

In one of the younger groups, the researchers spotted another intriguing finding: Binge drinking among men 18 to 29 who had children actually declined during the 12-year period, the only group to do so. In fact, the numbers of young dads who binge drank dropped so much that by around 2012, childless women in that age group were bingeing more than the dads.

But ultimately, the data showed that moms, overall, are still the group that binge drinks the least, McKetta said.

“So that puts to bed the idea that there is something special about mommy drinking,” she said. “It seems we need to be worried about everyone.”

While binge drinking rates went up for most groups, the study found that rates of heavy drinking didn’t increase, a finding McKetta called “reassuring news.”

Heavy drinking is defined as bingeing five or more times a month, or 60 days a year.

McKetta hopes that the new findings will spur doctors to broaden the scope of their screening for unhealthy drinking habits to include women of all age groups.

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