Shelly F. Greenfield, associate clinical director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital, added to Grucza's assessment.
"One possible explanation is that between 1934 and 1964, the social acceptability of women's drinking increased. As it was more socially acceptable for women to drink, a greater number of them became drinkers. Because women have a heightened vulnerability to the effects of alcohol -- that is, greater blood alcohol levels at similar doses of alcohol -- we may therefore see a concomitant rise in alcohol dependence among those who ever drank."
Another potential factor: immigrants arriving to America from cultures with more conservative values about drinking tend to stick with their native cultural norms, but their children are more likely to follow comparatively lax U.S. norms regarding alcohol.
"We can think of U.S. culture as having been traditionally dominated by white men," added Grucza. "As women have immigrated into this culture, they have become acculturated with regard to alcohol use."
He said the added barrier of race may be what is keeping black women, who still have the lowest rates of drinking among the demographic groups looked at, from adopting the alcohol-use standards of the dominant U.S. culture.
Greenfield suggested that targeting females with gender-specific prevention programs might lower drinking rates or delay when drinking begins, which could help prevent later alcohol problems.
"It would also be helpful to educate women about the gender differences in metabolism of alcohol, and the associated heightened female vulnerability to alcohol's adverse health consequences at lower doses than men," she said.
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