Drinking Dangers in Women

Toasting Danger: Why Alcohol Is Riskier for Women Than Men

Many women enjoy relaxing at the end of a long day with a glass of wine or a stiff drink. But beware: Regular alcohol consumption poses higher health risks for women than for men in a shorter amount of time.

Women are not only at greater risk for developing alcohol-related health problems than their male counterparts, but they need to consume far less to do it.

Sixty percent of U.S. women have at least one drink a year. Among those female drinkers, 13 percent consume eight or more drinks per week, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And that’s too much.

The dietary guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classify moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

For women, high-risk drinking means consuming more than seven drinks in one week or more than three drinks on one occasion. For men, it means consuming more than 14 drinks in one week or more than four on one occasion. (A drink is defined as one 12-ounce beer, one mixed drink with 1.5 ounces of liquor or one 5-ounce glass of wine.)

Why the disparity? Once alcohol passes through the digestive tract, it is dispersed in the water in the body. The more water available, the more diluted the alcohol. Because men’s bodies contain more water, the alcohol a man drinks is diluted more quickly than the alcohol a woman drinks. Thus, women retain higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood streams and are more vulnerable to alcohol-related organ damage.

This damage includes such chronic diseases as inflammation of the stomach and pancreas, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, stroke, dementia, brain damage and certain types of cancer; birth defects, including physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities; nutritional deficiencies; injuries; and such psychiatric problems as depression and anxiety. Alcohol also impairs judgement, and plays a major role in domestic violence, sexual assaults and child abuse.

A recent German study even concluded that alcohol dependence is twice as deadly for women as it is for men.

The 14-year study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research in October 2012, found that the death rate for alcohol-dependent women was more than four times that of the general population, while the death rate among alcohol-dependent men was about twice that of the general population. On average, the alcohol-addicted men and women were about 20 years younger than members of the general population at the time of death.

People suffering from alcoholism typically exhibit three or more of the following signs or symptoms:

  • An increased tolerance for alcohol;
  • Drinking larger amounts of alcohol over a longer period;
  • Spending a great deal of time drinking or recovering from drinking;
  • Reducing or giving up social, work or recreational activities because of drinking;
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety, when not drinking;
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control drinking;
  • Continuing to drink knowing one has a drinking problem.

If you are concerned you may be drinking too much, talk with your health care provider. It may also help to reach out to one of these organizations: Alcoholics Anonymous, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


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