Despite a growing body of research pointing to a correlation in women between alcohol consumption and various cancers and health concerns, statewide recreational heavy drinking rates are at an all-time high.

According to the Connecticut Hospital Association, 4.8 percent more women were admitted to emergency rooms for alcohol-related reasons in 2016 than in 2012. Additionally, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine report that women are becoming increasingly interested in medication-assisted alcohol abuse treatment.

The nonprofit Connecticut Health Investigative Team reports that the rise in alcohol consumption among Connecticut women reflects national trends. Over the past dozen years, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder among women has risen 83.7 percent, according to a September study by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

“This is a significant finding in the different types or patterns of drinking related to pathology,” said Marc Potenza GRD ’93 MED ’94, a professor of psychiatry at the medical school. “It portends that we may see increases in the population in alcohol-related mortality rates.”

The survey also shows an increase in different types or patterns of drinking, suggesting that drinking environments have become more inclusive of women. Potenza, who also directs the Women and Addictive Disorders Core of Women’s Health Research at Yale, said it is difficult to pinpoint precise reasons as to why these changes have taken place. One theory has proposed differences in social norms.

Statewide, Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has consistently served more men than women since 2012. Within mental health-specific programs, slightly more women than men received treatment. In substance abuse-specific programs, there were more than twice as many male as female clients.

“There used to be a wide range of behaviors that weren’t as socially acceptable for women as compared to men,” Potenza said. “So with current shifts towards gender equality, we have both positive and negative aspects and one of the negative aspects that I see is an increase in addictive behaviors including alcohol consumption and gambling behaviors. Historically, there’s been a two to one ratio between males and females in addictive behaviors.”

Other factors that have influenced drinking practices are advertising and the drinking age. Experts believe that older women may find it difficult to break habits of heavy drinking that they established in their youth.

The percentage of female patients aged 65 and older who have sought consultations for an alcohol-use disorder rose 1.4 percent from 2014 to 2016, said Gail D’Onofrio, chair of the medical school’s Department of Emergency Medicine, in an interview with the Connecticut Health Investigative Team.

The 2016 annual statistical report from the Connecticut DMHAS shows that 34 percent of people admitted to substance abuse programs primarily abused alcohol.

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu