Many of us have a drink now and then, especially in social situations. But for some, that occasional drink can become an addiction that impacts many aspect of life.
If you are a woman, whether you drink occasionally or you like to keep up with your male drinking partners, you need to understand how your gender may affect your tendency to drink and your ability to handle alcohol.
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance that can cause addiction, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Approximately one out of every 12 adults experience alcohol abuse or dependence. That adds up to over 17.5 million people. (1)
Approximately one-third of all people with alcohol problems are women.(5)
In general, women are more vulnerable than men to health concerns related to alcohol. Consider these differences between men and women in connection with alcohol:
• More men than women drink alcohol. Approximately 58 percent of adult men and 46 percent of adult women reported that they drank alcohol in the previous 30 days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2,3)
• Women may get drunk faster than men. In general, women have less body water for their weight than men. So when men and women drink the same amount of alcohol, the concentration of alcohol in the woman’s blood is typically higher than in the man’s blood.(4)
• Women metabolize alcohol faster than men. In general, women eliminate alcohol from their blood faster than men, which means they may get sober faster after drinking than men.(4)
• When women develop drinking problems, the alcohol abuse progresses faster for them than it does for men. This means women in general may lose control over their drinking more easily than men.(5)
• Women may experience negative consequences from their drinking faster than men, relative to when they regularly start getting drunk. These consequences may include poor impulse control, physical problems, relationship issues, poor self-esteem and problems functioning in everyday life.(5)
In general, women are at higher risk of many health issues connected to alcohol abuse:
• Women are at higher risk for liver damage caused by alcohol. It tends to take less time and less alcohol for women to develop alcohol-induced liver damage than it does for men.(4)
• Women may also be at higher risk of alcohol-induced brain damage than men. MRI studies show that certain areas of the brain involved in coordinating multiple brain functions is smaller in the brains of alcoholic women than it is in alcoholic men and non-alcoholic women. (4)
• Women may also experience more memory loss than men. It takes less time for brain changes to appear in women who drink to excess than in men.(3)
• Women are at risk for reproductive issues as excessive drinking can interrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle and make it harder to get pregnant.(3)
• Alcohol increases the risks of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon cancer in both men and women. (3)
• Moderate to heavy drinking may also increase the risk of breast cancer for women, although some studies show having one drink a day does not appear to increase this risk.(4)
Women who abuse alcohol may have a harder time than men getting treatment to stop their alcohol dependency. Research also shows that women are less likely than men to reach out for help.
When women do look for help, they are more likely to turn to mental health or primary care options, which may be less effective than specialized treatment programs.(5)
It is important for women to recognize that there are fundamental differences between men’s and women’s bodies in connection with alcohol. If you are concerned about how alcohol may be affecting your life, talk to your health care provider.
Reviewed April 15, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Facts About Alcohol. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Web. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
2) Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
3) Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
4) Alcohol Alert: Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. April 14, 2016.
5) Gender and Use of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Carla A. Green, PhD, MPH. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. April 14, 2016.