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Facts about alcohol’s effects on women
July 23, 2016

3 Sobering Facts Every Woman Should Know Re: Alcohol Before That Next Drink


If the disease of alcoholism is blind to gender, the health risks and treatment and recovery outcomes for alcohol scream, “You’re a woman! Watch out!” That makes recent news about the meteoric rise in women’s binge drinking sobering —and, for women who may have a drinking problem, another good reason to put down that next drink and get help now. Here are three facts regarding women and alcohol that every woman should know before their next drink:

Fact #1: Women who binge drink are at far greater risk of injury than men who binge drink.

Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol use in this country and one big risk factor for alcoholism and alcohol use disorders. For women, binge drinking is the equivalent of at least four drinks in one two-hour sitting; for men, it’s five drinks in the same timeframe.

A study published in the journal Addiction showed binge drinking is far more risky for women’s health than for men’s. Researchers found that after just three drinks, both men and women are 4.5 times more likely to be injured than when not drinking. But as the number of drinks rose from three, women’s rates of injury far outpaced those of men, until they actually tripled men’s risks of injury.

Why the greater risk of injury for women?

  • Women generally have smaller frames than men, and their bodies on average contain less water. That means the alcohol in their system will be less diluted.
  • Women also have less of an enzyme known as “gastric alcohol dehydrogenase,” which speeds up the body’s metabolism of alcohol. Slower metabolism of alcohol means alcohol has more time to enter the bloodstream, causing greater impairment at lesser amounts, including a greater likelihood of blackouts, even comas.
  • Women’s hormones. (Yep, it’s true.) Studies have shown menstruating women sustain higher peak alcohol levels depending on the time of the month.

Fact #2: Alcohol and heavy or problem drinking are worse for women’s long-term health than for men’s — and more deadly.

A quick rundown of how alcohol’s long-term effects on major organs disproportionately affect women shows in greater detail just how much worse off women are:

  • Liver damage – Women get alcohol-induced liver disease faster than men, even when consuming less alcohol. Women are also more likely to get alcoholic hepatitis. And they’re more likely to die from cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Brain damage – The latest studies suggest that women who drink heavily may sustain greater brain damage than men who drink.
  • Heart disease – What’s remarkable here is that women contract alcohol-related heart disease at the same rate as men, despite consuming on average 60 percent less overall alcohol than men.
  • Breast cancer – Many studies report that even moderate drinking causes breast cancer.
  • Sexual violence – Young women who drink more are also more likely to be victims of sexual assault and dating violence, studies how.
  • Traffic fatalities – Women, on the whole, are less likely to get behind the wheel when drunk, but they still face a greater risk of becoming a traffic fatality due to a high blood-alcohol concentration.

And it gets worse: female alcoholics die from their disease at a rate that’s 50 to 100 percent higher than male alcoholics’ death rates.

Fact #3: Women are less likely to seek treatment, and when they do, take longer to do so than men.

With all this gloom and doom surrounding women and alcohol, one would think women would be the first to get help for a drinking problem. Wrong. Alcohol’s inequities towards women continue in the area of treatment and recovery, primarily because, studies show, women face greater hurdles in finding effective substance abuse treatment. Consequently, women are also more likely than men to delay getting treatment.

The take-home? If you’re a woman who loves her wine and cocktails, think twice before you reach for the next one.