Author: Charles Frank

Women and Alcohol National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism NIAAA

women and alcohol

Women in many different cultures enjoy drinking alcohol for a variety of reasons—to celebrate a special occasion, help them feel more sociable, or simply to unwind with family and friends. While many are able to drink responsibly, alcohol use does pose unique risks to all women. While men are more likely to drink alcohol than women, and to develop problems because of their drinking, women are much more vulnerable to alcohol’s harmful effects. Research suggests that people who drink to cope — as opposed to drinking for pleasure — have a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder. And while every individual’s reasons for drinking are different, studies have found that women are more likely to drink to cope than men.

  1. Also, alcohol resides predominantly in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men.
  2. Any kind of alcohol in any amount can harm a developing fetus, especially during the first and second trimester.
  3. And their hormonal fluctuations are thought to play a role in how quickly alcohol breaks down.
  4. However, few substance abuse treatment programs provide adequate treatment of psychiatric disorders.
  5. From immune system disorders to breast cancer, here’s how alcohol harms the female body.

These biological factors explain why women become intoxicated after drinking less and are more likely to suffer adverse consequences after drinking smaller quantities and for fewer years than men. Several biological factors make women more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than men. Historically, women have tended to feel a greater sense of shame about drinking and getting drunk than men, but it appears that among younger women, this stigma may be fading. While men are still more likely to drink—and to binge—women are drinking more, and more often, than they did in the past. According to a 2009 survey, approximately 47% of women ages 12 and over in the United States reported being current drinkers, defined as having had a drink in the past 30 days. Women are more likely than men to suffer alcohol-induced brain damage, such as loss of mental function and reduced brain size.

Cooper says enrolling in a 90-day residential treatment program in 2018 drastically changed her own perception of who is affected by addiction. She found herself surrounded by other women in their 20s who also struggled with alcohol and other drugs. This trend parallels the rise in mental health concerns among young women, and researchers worry that the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could amplify both patterns.

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Receive free access to exclusive content, a personalized homepage based on your interests, and a weekly newsletter with topics of your choice. Log in or create an account for a personalized experience based on your selected interests. Mental health and wellness tips, our latest guides, resources, and more. Cooper plans to return to school this fall for a master’s degree in social work, with the goal of working to change those gender disparities in the field. “That made the decision to quit really powerful,” says Tietz, 30, who now hosts a podcast called Sober Powered. And the layers of stress, isolation and trauma from COVID-19 could make things worse.

Last year, the global nonprofit World Heart Federation challenged the widely held notion that a daily glass of red wine is good for you. Any amount increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and aneurysms, the group stated. These trends are disturbing, given that binge drinking not only carries health risks for both men and women but also increases the chance of unwanted and unplanned sexual activity. Women risk becoming pregnant, and both men and women risk contracting a sexually transmitted disease. A recent analysis of alcohol companies’ Facebook and Instagram posts by researchers in the U.K. They’re at greater risk for hangovers, blackouts, liver disease, alcohol-induced cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause an array of physical and mental birth defects, and is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation in the United States. When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes through the placenta to her fetus. In the fetus’s developing digestive system, alcohol breaks down much more slowly than it does in an adult body, meaning that the fetus’s blood alcohol level can remain high for longer periods. Some experts believe that women who drink even one alcoholic drink per day may be putting themselves at increased risk for health problems. Starting in the ’90s, alcohol companies launched products like Smirnoff Ice that were meant to appeal to young women.

women and alcohol

Alcohol has slid along a similar trajectory, with the industry assuring women that all they need to get through the day is a glass of something. In the 1970s, women’s magazines advised readers that wine could be part of an “Anti-Tension Diet,” as the journalist Gabrielle Glaser writes in Her Best-Kept Secret. Just as the addictive dangers of Valium became unignorable, Eli Lilly invented Prozac. Though the blockbuster antidepressant was marketed toward both genders, “there were some explicitly gendered Prozac ads that had to do with pitching Prozac to help women handle the double workday. So, you know, ‘Alert at work, able to do the stuff at home,’” Herzberg says.

Stress Drinking Has a Gender Divide

Moreover, women who drink develop a greater number of medical problems, and at much lower alcohol levels, than men. Women who consume less than two drinks a day increase their risk of death from any cause, according to an analysis published in March. For a long time, professionals believed that women with substance abuse problems were less likely than men to recover from them.

For example, research suggests that women are more likely than men to experience hangovers and alcohol-induced blackouts at comparable doses of alcohol.5,6 Other biological differences may contribute as well. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, mounting evidence suggests that women are at higher risk for some of alcohol’s negative effects, such as liver disease, cardiovascular disease and neurotoxicity. There’s also a link between drinking and an increased risk of breast cancer. Women who drink more than light to moderate amounts of alcohol (more than about 7 drinks a week) are at increased risk of car accidents and other traumatic injuries, cancer, hypertension, stroke, and suicide. In addition, drinking at an elevated rate increases the likelihood that a woman will go on to abuse or become dependent on alcohol. Women tend to develop alcohol-related diseases and other consequences of drinking sooner than men, and after drinking smaller cumulative amounts of alcohol.

Women were twice as likely to be prescribed the pills as men; at one point, a fifth of American women were taking Valium. In 2019, she returned to UNC-Chapel Hill and finished her degree in women’s and gender studies, even completing a capstone project on the links among sexual violence, trauma and addiction. “That’s when I got scared, when I tried to not drink and only made it two days,” says Cooper, now 30. That common image of who is affected by alcohol disorders, echoed throughout pop culture, was misleading over a decade ago when Cooper was in college.

For people over 26, women are increasing their alcohol consumption faster than men. Among teens and young adults, however, there’s an overall decline in drinking. One standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, but many modern wine glasses have room for several times that amount so it’s easy to pour much more and think it’s only one drink. Wine glass capacity has increased sevenfold over 300 years, one study found.

Meet the new winemakers taking South Africa by storm in little-known Swartland

TODAY reported in 2018 that women were drinking almost as much as men, closing a historically wide gap. Or it might involve a referral to a psychiatrist, who can prescribe craving-reducing medicines such as naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate. As Karaye’s study notes, though, these drugs—like many others—have primarily been studied in men, so it is uncertain how much they improve the health or mortality of women.

Women are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances in order to self-medicate problems such as depression, anxiety, and stress, or to cope with emotional difficulties. Research shows women suffer health consequences of alcohol — liver disease, heart disease and cancer — more quickly than men and even with lower levels of consumption. Cute terms like mommy juice or liquid courage belie the reality that even small amounts of wine, beer, or cocktails endanger health.

Anxiety kept her up at night, she says, and she started having suicidal thoughts. By the time Victoria Cooper enrolled in an alcohol treatment program in 2018, she was “drinking for survival,” not pleasure, she says — multiple vodka shots in the morning, at lunchtime and beyond. In the treatment program, she saw other women in their 20s struggling with alcohol and other drugs. “It was the first time in a very long time that I had not felt alone,” she says. This finding is not unexpected, says Ibraheem Karaye, assistant professor of population health at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and the study’s coauthor. “It’s logical that we would see these sex differences in alcohol-related deaths considering the literature has been showing that the gap in consumption has been narrowing and complications in women are rising,” he says.