WOMEN are developing alcohol abuse problems at a much younger age, health experts say.
Adolescent males and females now typically have their first drink at the same age – just over 14 years – a forum on women, substance abuse and mental health in Sydney heard this week.
By contrast, female baby boomers born between 1953 and 1962 had their first alcoholic drink at age 17, nearly three years later than their male counterparts.
Professor Maree Teesson, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, says women are fast catching up to men when it comes to alcohol abuse.
“Social roles have become similar over time, and women are trying to keep up with men when it comes to drinking,” she said.
She said that in the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, the number of young females diagnosed with symptoms of alcohol abuse increased by 27,000 – a much bigger increase than that seen in 30- and 40-year-olds over the same period.
Professor Teesson said another worrying trend was that younger women were less likely to seek treatment for substance abuse than men.
“There’s a gap in the treatments that we’re offering because there weren’t as many young females who had alcohol problems in the past,” she said.
She said alcohol intervention programs needed to be specifically targeted to young women rather than both genders.
Figures from Health Statistics NSW reveal more young men visit the emergency department because of alcohol than their female counterparts, but between 1997 and 2011 the rate of young women presenting with acute alcohol problems grew faster.
More people aged 18 to 24 present to emergency departments because of alcohol than any other age group, with the rate of young people attending the emergency department for this reason rising from 119 per 100,000 people in 1997, to 311 per 100,000 people in 2011.
When it comes to hospitalisations resulting from alcohol, Moree Plains and Narrabri are the biggest problem areas in the northern region.
But the rate of alcohol-attributable hospitalisations has grown in all but four local government areas of the northern region since 1998-99 to 1999-2000.