4 Facts About Women and Alcohol

women-and-alcohol

If you had to guess which gender of Americans drinks more booze, which would you reckon? It’s a surprisingly close match, as men only slightly outpace women (68% compared to 64%, respectively), However, these numbers fail to tell the whole picture of the distinct relationship between women and alcohol, like their drinking habits and frequency, the reason they drink, and as well as the risks they face. Understanding and respecting gender-based differences of substances makes for better addiction treatment as well as more effective preventative measures. Here are five facts about alcohol consumption in women that everyone needs to know:

Women Have a Lower Drinking Threshold

While the ideal amount of alcohol a person should drink would be zero, that’s not realistic. Health organizations know this, which is why they established an official measure of what constitutes a “safe” amount to drink, better known as a moderate drinking level. What defines it is divided by gender. For men, moderate alcohol use is considered to be no more than two drinks a day.  In women, this is limited to one or less. Regardless of how well you claim that you handle your alcohol, this is what experts have determined as the guideline for reducing the risks of alcohol-related issues. The reason for this disparity brings us to point number two…

Women Process Alcohol More Slowly

Women simply cannot process alcohol as efficiently as men. Metabolism is one of the primary factors that affect how much a person can drink and how intoxicated they’ll become.​​ Typically larger and with greater muscle mass, men have the upper hand when it comes to handling alcohol. As such, even when men and women drink identical amounts, women will have higher BAC levels.

Another reason is one of a molecular level. Women naturally tend to produce fewer of the liver-produced enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenase that are responsible for breaking down the alcohol that enters our bodies. This also makes women more susceptible to alcohol addiction. Fewer of these enzymes means extended exposure to alcohol in the brain and greater opportunity for increased alcohol tolerance

Women are More Prone to Alcohol-Health Risks

When it comes to both the short- and long-term health consequences of drinking, women are disadvantaged in either respect. Women experience alcohol-related health issues sooner than men do, even when they drink less (talk about unfair). Additionally, these health issues often tend to be more severe than that of their male counterparts. 

Liver Damage

Alcohol-related liver damage is one of the deadliest consequences of alcohol abuse. The liver is responsible for all sorts of vital functions from enabling the body to extract fat, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins from food to detoxing our entire blood supply (there are over 500 in total). This damage itself can be life-threatening, but can also result in a domino effect that causes other serious health problems. Women are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis than men who drink the same amount. 

Heart Damage

Alcohol abuse is one of the primary causes of heart conditions such as heart failure or stroke. Even occasional misuse can quickly result in dangerous increases in blood pressure. Indirectly, alcohol can contribute to increased fat deposits and weight gain, which can add to the danger. Women will once again find themselves facing a higher susceptibility to alcohol-related heart issues than a man who drinks more frequently or heavily. 

Brain Damage 

Sustained alcohol abuse can permanently alter the physical surface of the brain, causing lasting effects on cognition, coordination, mood regulation, impulse control, and more. These detrimental changes happen sooner in women drinkers than in men. Additionally, the extent of these damages are often more pronounced in women. This is evident in the effects of alcohol on women’s hippocampus, where a study found that women were more likely to experience blackouts. Another study that compared the consequences of binge drinking of teenage boys to teenage girls found that the girls showed less brain activity.

Women Have an Increased Risk of Sexual Assault

Sadly, one of the risks that disproportionately affects female drinkers is the increased risk of sexual harassment and assault. Women under the influence are more vulnerable to being attacked as they are physically and cognitively less capable of thwarting a potential assailant. It’s estimated that about half of sexual assault victims say they were drinking alcohol at the time. 

The gender differences in alcohol use show that women are particularly vulnerable to internal and external issues that come from drinking. Attempting to “keep up with the guys” is impossible to do safely and risks significant long-term consequences. 

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/women-and-alcohol

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-health.htm

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/06/09/1003980966/women-now-drink-as-much-as-men-and-suffer-health-effects-more-quickly

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