There is every reason why alcohol, women and its impact on their health should be discussed. Research has demonstrated for decades that women’s bodies respond differently to alcohol than men’s, and, for the average woman, the results are negative.
Alcohol is processed differently in men and women’s bodies. In women, the alcohol is broken down slower: they have less “body water than men of similar weight, so women achieve higher concentrations of ethanol [alcohol levels] and premenstrual hormonal changes cause intoxication to set in faster during the days right before a woman gets her period.”1
It takes less alcohol to negatively impact a women’s health than it takes to affect men’s health. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism2:
- 13% of American women drink more than seven drinks in a week.
- Risk of death from an automobile accident of a woman weighing 140 lbs is increased after one drink on an empty stomach
- Alcohol has serious side effects when taken with medication
- Research has illustrated that there is a dramatic increase in breast cancer for women who drink at least one drink a day
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the direct result of drinking while pregnant and is preventable
- Drinking makes young women vulnerable to sexual assault, unsafe sex, and domestic violence
- Long-term health problems from heavy alcohol use include liver, heart, and brain disease; suppression of the immune system; and cancer.
Why Men and Women Drink Alcohol
In today’s culture, the most common reason women and men drink alcohol is to reduce stress, to change a mood, or influence their mental state. Alcohol is known as a depressant and as such lowers our sense of inhibitions. It has a direct influence on the functioning of the central nervous system, slowing it dramatically. It also has a direct influence on the way the brain works. The obvious results of altering the brain and the central nervous systems are in one’s inability to walk straight, speak clearly and short-term memory loss, to name a few.
Initially, alcohol does relieve some stress and anxiety. However, according to WebMD:
- One-third of people with major depression have an alcohol problem
- Women are more than twice as likely to start drinking heavily if they have a history of depression
“Research has shown that men who have strong expectations that drinking will lead to social and physical pleasure and sexual enhancement, tend to drink more heavily. By contrast, women who tend to drink more heavily are most often those that believe that alcohol reduces tension.”3
Life is stressful: money, relationships, job stress and family dynamics have a profound impact on our lives. Often, as stated earlier, people will drink to relax. The thinking is “I want to have a good time,” “I want to be social,” “I don’t want to think about my problems,” and a host of other rationales. But in reality, these thoughts are deceiving. While initially, alcohol may seem to take the edge off of our feelings, it does exacerbate the underlying mental health condition in the long term. Indeed, when alcohol and an underlying mental health condition coexist, alcohol can intensify the symptoms of the mental illness and create symptoms of other psychiatric syndromes. When men and women drink to relieve underlying mental health conditions, there is a greater likelihood of increasing alcohol consumption, increased attempts at suicide and difficulty utilizing therapeutic options.
In a healthcare news release from the Utah University’s Health Radio transcript, Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, Vice-Chair of the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology stated:
“Our lives are stressful and we may self-medicate with alcohol to deal with the stresses of our lives. Also, women use alcohol to self-medicate our depression and anxiety, both of which are more common in women than men.”4
It should be noted that in a recent news release from NIAAA.NIH.Gov, there was a substantial increase in the number of women being seen at emergency rooms. There was an almost 50% increase between 2006 and 2014. One of the reasons behind the rise, that other studies are showing, is that the difference between alcohol abuse between men and women has been diminishing. It should be remembered, as stated at the beginning of this piece, that women suffer from alcohol-related health risks more quickly than men and at a faster rate.
If you wish to take a free online Alcohol checkup which will assess your relationship with alcohol go to:
If you are concerned about how much you are drinking, why you are drinking, the frequency with which you drink, or the changes in your mental and physical health a licensed treatment facility will have the professional help you seek.