New Report Adds to Knowledge Pool About Trauma’s Role in Female Alcohol Use Disorder, Calls for Additional Research
A recent report provides new evidence supporting the concept that stress and trauma play a greater role in alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder (AUD) in woman than in men and highlights the need for more targeted research into female AUD risk pathways. This need is especially pressing, the report’s researchers suggest, because the U.S. is facing a public health crisis of alcohol misuse and AUD, that is being “fueled in part by dramatic rises in binge and heavy drinking and prevalence of AUD in women.” Not only are the “dramatic rises in the prevalence of alcohol misuse and AUD in women relative to men (women, 84% increase; men, 35% increase)” alarming on their own right, but women tend to experience far greater alcohol-related health problems than do men.
Childhood trauma stressors have long been associated with alcohol misuse and development of AUD.
The report—“The Role of Stress, Trauma, and Negative Affect in Alcohol Misuse and Alcohol Use Disorder in Women”—notes that childhood trauma and maltreatment are psychosocial stressors that have long been associated with alcohol misuse and development of AUD in both males and females.
However, girls and women face significantly higher rates of childhood sexual abuse and violent victimization. These rates, the researchers believe, are factors that “produce the highest odds ratios [for female] association with heavy drinking, drinking to cope with negative affect, and development of AUD.”
These higher odds ratios also come into play with “negative affect,” which is broadly defined as a state of emotional distress invoking anxiety, fear, anger, irritability, and sadness, caused by repeated and cumulative exposure to stress, trauma, adversity, and maltreatment. Previous research has definitively linked negative affect with substance use disorders and determined that women report more negative affect than men. Prior research has also “documented that, while men tend to consume alcohol to enhance positive feelings, women more frequently consume alcohol in response to negative emotions.” Bottom line, according to the recent report, is that early trauma, negative affect, and other stressors are linked to the development and maintenance of substance use disorders and that drinking in an effort to self-medicate their symptoms are associated with the increasing rates of AUD in women.
The report also highlights how women are at a biological disadvantage in relation to the effects of alcohol on the physiological, hormonal, neural, and immune systems that could make them even more susceptible to alcohol misuse and AUD, especially when combined with the risk pathways presented by trauma, negative affect, and other stressors. In conclusion, the report’s authors state: “At a time when alcohol misuse is on the rise among girls, and binge drinking and AUD rates have substantially increased in women, there is a major gap in understanding the mechanisms and processes that specifically increase risks for the onset and development of AUD in girls and women and for maintenance of AUD in women.“ Greater specific targeted research on risk pathways for girls and women can address the need for focused development of targeted prevention and early treatment efforts in females. Prevention and early treatment may reduce prevalence rates of AUD—as well as the much higher rates of alcohol-related health problems and morbidity in women compared to men—and such efforts may increase alcohol recovery rates among women.”
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