Most women think too much, overthinkers often drink too much

February 4, 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich. —Most women think too much and overthinking leads to depression, an inability to move forward and wrecked emotional health, according to ground-breaking research detailed in University of Michigan psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema’s new book due out this week. A new follow-up study building on her years of research, to appear in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, shows how overthinkers are more susceptible to alcoholism. Overthinking—endless torrents of negative thoughts and emotions often triggered by something as fleeting as a sarcastic remark from a friend, relative or co-worker—is the focus of “Women Who Think Too Much: How To Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life,” (2003, Henry Holt and Company). Among the findings:

· Overthinking is a national epidemic among young and middle aged adults but is relatively rare among older adults: 73 percent of 25-35 year-olds overthink compared to 52 percent of 45-55 year-olds and just 20 percent of 65-75 year-olds.

· Overthinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety — especially in women — and interferes with good problem-solving.

· Women are significantly more likely than men to fall into overthinking and to be immobilized by it: 57 percent of women and 43 percent of men are overthinkers. · Overthinkers are significantly more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and overthinking may push some individuals to consider or attempt suicide. Nolen-Hoeksema explains the epidemic of overthinking in America, which may have only worsened in light of the events of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the slumping economy and preparations for potential war in Iraq. In the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy article, Nolen-Hoeksema and colleague Zaje Harrell show that overthinkers are significantly more likely to turn to alcohol to drown their worrisome thoughts and distressing feelings. The sample for this study included 1,317 women and men in a randomly selected community sample.

Men who are overthinkers (as compared to men who do not overthink) were also significantly more likely to binge-drink and have alcohol-related problems. Nolen-Hoeksema also found that the men who used alcohol to cope with stress were more likely to develop new alcohol-related problems over the course of the study.
Nolen-Hoeksema’s multi-year research program shows that overthinking leads people — especially women — to focus on negative memories of the past, depressing explanations of the present, and hopelesssness about the future. As a result, overthinkers generate poor solutions to their problems and feel unable to implement any solutions. Symptoms of depression and anxiety increase, and overthinkers are at risk for major debilitating depression and persistent anxiety. The good news: overthinking can be overcome. The book offers dozens of strategies to help readers break and rise above the grip of overthinking, leading to more healthy, productive and fulfilling lives. For more information, visit or contact Tracy Locke, Henry Holt and Co., (212) 886-1096.