Problem drinking rises sharply among Idaho women

The share of Idaho women who had consumed more than four drinks at a time at least once within the previous 30 days rose by nearly one-fifth between 2005 and 2012, to 12 percent, according to a new national study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

“We are seeing some very alarming trends in alcohol overconsumption, especially among women,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington professor and lead author of the study.

The study concluded that most binge drinkers and heavy drinkers are not alcoholics but are at risk for alcoholism.

Men, who are considered binge drinkers if they consume more than five drinks, still drink considerably more alcohol than women. Binge drinking among Idaho men rose, too, but at a slower pace: 5 percent from 2005 to 2012.

The increases for both sexes are in keeping with a national trend.

Debbie Thomas, CEO of the Walker Center, a nonprofit that operates alcohol and drug treatment programs in Boise, Gooding and Twin Falls, said she was not surprised by the sharp increase among women. As more women have joined the workforce, they have been exposed more to alcohol and a social expectation to drink, she said.

“What we hear them talking about is, ‘As I became more educated, as I began to work in more of a traditionally populated male environment, the socialization was around having a couple of drinks or drinking during the middle of the day or going to a conference and having drinks at the end of the conference,’ ” Thomas said.

Many women do not understand that they absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men, Thomas said.

Women retain less water than men and often weigh less, so consuming the same amount of alcohol naturally will affect a woman more, according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. It is also believed that women absorb more alcohol because a stomach enzyme breaks down alcohol less completely in women than in men.

The Walker Center also has seen increasing numbers of women who have developed alcohol problems after undergoing weight-loss surgery, Thomas said.

“We’ve seen an increase in the last couple of years of women coming into treatment with full-blown alcoholism, and the precipitating event was a gastric bypass surgery,” she said. “They had a surgery where they weren’t educated to the fact their body was not going to metabolize alcohol in the same way.”


The study is said to be the first in the United States to track trends in alcohol consumption at the county level.

In 16 Idaho counties, more than one in five adults older than 21 were binge drinkers in 2012. Twenty-nine percent of adults in Shoshone County and 26 percent of those in Benewah County are binge drinkers.

Shoshone County also had the highest percentage of binge drinkers among women in 2012, at 22 percent. Nez Perce and Latah counties were next at 20 percent. Among men, Shoshone County, at 37 percent, and Clearwater County, at 33 percent, were highest.

On the other end of the spectrum, Madison County had the lowest binge drinking rate in the nation, at 6 percent. Nearby Franklin and Bear Lake counties were seventh and eighth on that list, at about 8 percent each. All three counties are heavily Mormon, a faith that condemns alcohol use.

Binge drinking can lead to injuries from domestic violence incidents, car crashes, falls, burns, drownings, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, liver disease and heart problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And women are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol.

More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S. takes place during binge drinking, the CDC said.

Any amount of alcohol consumed by a pregnant woman is potentially risky, said Dr. Amber Messier-Gieri, a specialist in neonatal and perinatal medicine at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. “Alcohol is actually the leading known cause of developmental disabilities and birth defects in the United States,” Messier-Gieri said.


The study also tallied heavy drinking. For women this is more than one drink per day, and in Idaho it increased by 43 percent between 2005 and 2012. That was considerably higher than the 28 percent increase nationally and nearly double the increase for Idaho men. Men are considered heavy drinkers if they consume more than two drinks a day.

Seven percent of Idaho women were classified as heavy drinkers in 2012, compared with 10.8 percent of men.

The highest percentages of female heavy drinkers were 14.4 percent in Shoshone County and 13.6 percent in Bonner County. For men, Shoshone County was tops at 19.6 percent, followed by Benewah and Clearwater counties at 16.8 percent.

The increasing use of alcohol by women has not led to added arrests on alcohol-related charges, said Cpl. Chris Glenn, senior training specialist for the Idaho State Police. “We haven’t seen much of an increase,” Glenn said. “The vast majority of those arrested are still men.”

Glenn said men drive more, are more apt to be risk-takers and are more likely to get intoxicated and then drive.

Twenty-six of Idaho’s 44 counties showed heavy-drinking rates above the national average of 8.2 percent. Shoshone County had the highest rate of heavy drinkers, at 17 percent, followed by Valley County at 14.5 percent and Bonner County at 14.2 percent.

Heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, heart problems, a weakened immune system, and difficulty in thinking clearly and moving with coordination, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For pregnant women, it can lead to preterm birth and fetal alcohol syndrome.

In Idaho, about 9 percent of adults were considered heavy drinkers in 2012, up from 7 percent in 2005. The national percentage of heavy drinkers was slightly more than 8 percent, up from 7 percent in 2005.


At the same time, 28 Idaho counties had drinking rates that fell below the national average of 56 percent, which has changed little over time. Overall, 50 percent of Idahoans consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the past 30 days, down 2 percentage points since 2007.

Madison County had the lowest drinking rate in the nation, and three other Idaho counties cracked the study’s top 10 list of low drinking rates. All four are in Eastern Idaho.

Three Idaho counties popular as vacation destinations — Blaine, Bonner and Valley — had the state’s highest percentages of people who had at least one drink in the past month.

All of Idaho’s neighbors, with the exception of heavily Mormon Utah, reported higher drinking rates. Montana led at 62 percent, followed by Washington, Oregon and Wyoming, with Nevada at 56 percent. Utah was at 28 percent.

The study found that drinking is more prevalent in the northern states of the West and Midwest, along the Pacific Coast and in New England. Rates were lower in the South and in the Rocky Mountain region.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers analyzed data from annual telephone surveys conducted by state health departments and the CDC.