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Telescoping of Landmark Events Associated with Drinking: A Gender Comparison

Carrie L. Randall, James S. Roberts, Frances K. del Boca, Kathleen M. Carroll, Gerard J. Connors, Margaret E. Mattson

Objective: The literature suggests that women exhibit telescoped development of (i.e., faster progression to) alcoholism, with fewer years drinking than men. The purpose of this study was to use data gathered in the course of a large clinical trial to further examine this issue. Method: Subjects in this retrospective study were from a pool of 1,307 men and 419 women enrolled in Project MATCH, a multisite alcohol treatment matching study. MATCH subjects were recruited from both outpatient and aftercare settings over a 2-year period. Age-of-onset for landmark events in the development of alcoholism were determined from self-report and clinical interviews given at baseline entry into the study. Gender differences in age-of-onset variables were assessed within both outpatient and aftercare settings. Gender differences in progression times between successive landmarks were also examined. Differences were tested with both multivariate and univariate ANOVA techniques. Results: Women generally began getting drunk regularly at a later average age than men (26.6 versus 22.7 years, p ≤ .001), began experiencing their first drinking problems at a later average age than men (27.5 versus 25.0 years, p ≤ .001) and exhibited loss of control over their drinking at a later average age than men (29.8 versus 27.2 years, p ≤ .001). However, these gender differences were most pronounced for older individuals and attenuated for younger subjects. Women also progressed faster than men, on average, between first getting drunk regularly and first encountering drinking problems (0.9 versus 2.3 years, p ≤ .001) and between first loss of drinking control and onset of worst drinking problems (5.5 versus 7.8 years, p ≤ .001). Women also exhibited shorter average progression times between first getting drunk regularly and first seeking treatment (11.6 versus 15.8 years, p ≤ .001), although this effect was negligible for younger subjects. Conclusions: Telescoping is a relatively robust phenomenon in treatment-seeking alcoholics and indicates that women are more likely to progress faster through the landmark events in the development of alcoholism than are men. (J. Stud. Alcohol 60: 252-260, 1999)