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Women have all but caught up with men at knocking back alcohol, a global study of drinking habits shows.

The analysis of 4 million people, born between 1891 and 2001, showed that men used to be far more likely to drink and have resulting health problems.

But the current generation have pretty much closed the gap, the BMJ Open report says.

The changing roles of men and women in society partly explain the move towards drinking parity.

The study showed that in people born in the early 1900s, men were:

  • More than twice as likely as women to drink alcohol at all (2.2 times)
  • Three times as likely to drink to problematic levels
  • And 3.6 times as likely to develop health problems from drinking, such as liver cirrhosis

But over the ensuing decades, the gap closed so that for those born at the end of the century men were only:

  • 1.1 times as likely as women to drink alcohol at all
  • A much lower 1.2 times as likely to drink to problematic levels
  • And 1.3 times as likely to develop health problems from drinking

The team at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, analysed data from people all over the world – although it was massively skewed towards North America and Europe.

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Image caption Alcohol marketing is increasingly targeted at women

They concluded: “Alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon.

“The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women, in particular, should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms.”

Prof Mark Petticrew, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Men’s and women’s roles have been changing over the decades, this is likely to account for some of these trends – but not all.

“The increasing availability of alcohol also plays an important part, as does the way that alcohol marketing is often targeted specifically at women and particularly young women.

“Health professionals need to help the public – both men and women – to understand the health risks of alcohol consumption, and how to reduce those risks.”

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