Alcohol use varies by gender as well as ethnicity. In the past, boys have consumed alcohol at notably higher rates than girls (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse [CASA], 2003). Unfortunately, this particular gender gap, most notably for younger children, appears to be closing. As of 2000, the prevalence of alcohol use among boys and girls aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 were within a few percentage points of each other (see Figure 2-6). Girls aged 12 to 14 in all three racial and ethnic groups, but most notably Hispanic girls, are actually more likely than boys to have used alcohol in the past 30 days—9.8 percent of Hispanic females, 8.3 percent of non-Hispanic white females, and 4.8 percent of African American females (see Figure 2-7). These rates compare with 6.3 percent of Hispanic males, 7.5 percent of non-Hispanic white males, and 4.2 percent of African American males. Clearly, a greater number of girls are initiating alcohol use at a younger age than boys. African American girls aged 15 to 17 also tend to drink more than African American boys of the same age. Among 18- to 20-year-olds, boys drink more than girls across the three racial and ethnic groups. However, the gap between boys and girls in each group is relatively small (see Figures 2-6 and 2-7)—for non-Hispanic whites the difference in any alcohol use in the past 30 days for 18- to 20-year-olds is 5.9 percent, 9.5 percent for Hispanics, and 8.4 percent for African Americans (with the exception of 12- to 14-year-olds). Males do consistently report engaging in heavy drinking at a higher rate than females.
In general, the differences between girls and boys is greater for heavy drinking than for recent use: for example, non-Hispanic white males aged 18 to 20 have a 13 percent higher prevalence for heavy drinking than non-Hispanic white females, compared to a 5.9 difference for any recent use. Similar patterns are observed in Hispanics and African Americans—Hispanic males have a 14.9 percent higher prevalence and African American males have an 8.6 percent higher prevalence for heavy drinking compared to their female counterparts. Males also have a higher prevalence of frequent heavy drinking than females: for example, more than 20 percent of non-Hispanic white males aged 18 to 20 are frequent heavy drinkers, compared with about 10 percent of non-Hispanic white females in this age group (Flewelling et al., 2004).
When considering these differences, however, we should be mindful of the biological differences between women and men that result in women processing alcohol more slowly. From a physiological perspective, five drinks is substantially more alcohol for a young female than a young male (NIAAA, 1990). As a result, women may be drinking somewhat less, but given their size and body weight, still drinking heavily. Acknowledging differences in body composition and alcohol metabolism, recent measures