Should alcohol consumption measures be adjusted for gender differences?


  • Kathryn Graham,

  • Richard Wilsnack,

  • Deborah Dawson,

  • Nancy Vogeltanz


Because of biological differences between men and women, the same quantity of alcohol consumed over the same time period produces higher blood alcohol levels (BALs) in women than in men. Some alcohol researchers have proposed that quantity and volume measures of alcohol consumption (e.g. usual number of drinks per drinking day and overall amount of alcohol consumed) should be adjusted to reflect these biological differences. To date, no standard adjustment for biological gender differences has been adopted. In this paper, we review the literature on biological and behavioral differences related to alcohol consumption and effects and discuss the implications of these differences in terms of adjusting alcohol consumption measures. Our review suggests that adjusting measures of alcohol consumption to compensate for biological sex differences is most appropriate for research or policy applications involving the short and long-term physiological effects of alcohol in contexts where gender differences in how alcohol is consumed can be assumed to be minimal. In other circumstances, non-biological gender differences relating to alcohol use, such as pace of drinking, may moderate the relationship between alcohol consumption and biological gender differences, making an adjustment less defensible. We also identify areas where more knowledge is needed not only to address the issue of adjusting alcohol measures for gender differences but also to understand better the relationship between alcohol consumption and effects.