Why Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men

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The effects of alcohol are stronger in women than in men, and women who drink too much alcohol are more likely to suffer from significant alcohol problems than men, studies show. In addition, women who have alcohol problems have higher death rates due to suicide, accidents, and other health related issues — more than twice the rate of men. Given these facts, you may be wondering: Why do women drink, and what can you do to enjoy alcohol without risks to your health?

Understanding Why Women Drink

Women drink for many of the same reasons that men drink: to relax, to gain confidence in social situations, to get to sleep, and to relieve stress.

Other reasons why women may drink alcohol include the following:

Women are more likely to drink if they have problems with a loved one.

Alcohol problems are more common in women who are unmarried, divorced, or separated.

Women whose husbands have alcohol problems are more likely to drink themselves.

Women who have been sexually abused are more likely to drink to excess.

Women may start out drinking more. Seventeen percent of ninth grade girls admit that they had more than five drinks at one time in the past month. This is a higher rate of drinking than for boys of the same age.

Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men

The blood alcohol level in a woman who just drank the same amount of alcohol as a man will be higher because women are usually smaller, have less water in their bodies, and metabolize alcohol more slowly than men.

This means that the brain and liver of a woman who drinks are exposed to more alcohol pound for pound than a man’s brain and liver. Women who have alcohol problems may drink less than men but still experience the same level of impairment. They can also develop liver damage and other alcohol-related health problems more quickly than men, even though they may be drinking less.

Benefits of Alcohol in Women

If you are a woman over the age of 55, one drink per day may lower your risk for heart disease. Moderate drinking for a woman is defined as one alcoholic drink per day. This translates to one 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce bottle of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

On the other hand, women who drink beyond moderation may increase their risk of heart disease. If you are younger than 55, there may be no health benefits to alcohol consumption.

Risks of Alcohol in Women

Too much alcohol consumption clearly has risks for both men and women. Other risks to women who drink alcohol include:

Cancer. Women who drink alcohol may increase their risk of breast cancer and head and neck cancers. According to Journal of the American Medical Association, consuming as few as three to six alcoholic drinks a week may be linked to a 15 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

Brain damage. Alcohol kills brain cells and women are more susceptible to this alcohol effect than men.

Pregnancy. Alcohol can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. In addition, alcohol use during pregnancy can have serious harmful consequences on the unborn child. No amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy.

Victimization. Women who have alcohol problems have a higher risk of becoming victims of sexual assault or other acts of violence.

Depression and personal injury. In addition, alcohol consumption can contribute to depression, sleeping problems, heart failure, falls, and poor nutrition in women, especially older women.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Problems

If the effects of alcohol are causing problems for you or for others, you may have an alcohol problem. The risk of developing an alcohol problem is greater if you have a family history of alcoholism. Some warning signs of alcohol problems are:

• Missing work or school because of drinking

• Driving while impaired by alcohol

• Having a strong urge to drink

• Needing more alcohol than you previously did to get a pleasurable response

• Finding that people who care about you are concerned about your drinking

• Having more than seven drinks per week

• Finding yourself drinking alone or early in the day

If you think you might have an alcohol problem, it’s important to get help. Experts believe that the hardest part of getting better is admitting you have a problem. Contact Alcoholics Anonymous or talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you may have an alcohol problem.

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