In July 2011, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a Committee Opinion that all women should be screened for alcohol use at least once a year, and within the first trimester of pregnancy.
These recommendations reflect an increase in problem drinking among women. So what does that mean, exactly? How do you know if you’re a “problem drinker”? Well, if a woman drinks more than 7 drinks in a week, or more than 3 drinks on one occasion, she may be at risk of developing a drinking problem.
Of course, there’s always debate over what constitutes “a drink.” (“Hey,” you might think, “I only had one drink: a 23-ounce Hurricane!”) For these purposes, a drink can be defined as a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor (straight-up or in a mixed drink).
Why do women have different guidelines from men? First of all, our bodies are clearly made up differently. Women’s bodies contain less water than men’s bodies, pound for pound, which causes our bodies to react differently to alcohol. Because alcohol breaks up in body water, blood alcohol becomes less concentrated in a man’s body than in a woman’s. This, in addition to the fact that the average woman weighs less than the average man, explains why a woman, for the most part, physically can’t handle as much alcohol as a man.
Still, the majority of American women over age 18 do drink alcohol. A survey reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that almost 29 percent of adult women in the U.S. reported drinking 4 or more drinks on a single occasion in a 12-month period. Overall, 42 percent drank 12 or more drinks over the past year.
But is drinking a bad thing? Not necessarily. Two large studies published in 2010 confirmed that light drinking can actually be good for the heart, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. For women, however, this equates to a single drink per day, still within the limits of low-risk drinking. Regardless of the potential cardiac benefits, the results of these studies do not serve as a recommendation for women to drink.