How Does Alcohol Affect Women?

Alcohol consumption is a significant part of our cultural identity: sporting events flash commercials for beer. Even the music we listen to sings the praises of whiskey, bourbon, and beer. Our newsfeeds are full of memes centered around “mommy wine culture.” 

Studies into alcohol use and misuse among women have shown that it is rising.1 Unfortunately, excessive alcohol consumption can have adverse health effects, particularly in women, and put them at higher risk for alcohol-related health issues than men.1

The Impact of Alcohol on Women’s Health

Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related health issues than men are, even if women haven’t been drinking as much or for as long as men have.1

Liver Damage

According to an article by the National Institute on Health (NIH), women are more susceptible to liver disease — even with less alcohol consumption — and show a faster progression of cirrhosis than men. Even having two glasses of wine daily can increase women’s risk of developing liver disease.3

Heart Disease

While drinking in moderation (1-2 drinks per day) typically doesn’t impact the cardiovascular system significantly, heavy or binge drinking does.4 Studies have found that not only does binge drinking elevate blood pressure, but it can also put women at greater risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.1

Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), alcohol use is linked to 6% of all cancers,6 particularly breast cancer. Alcohol use — even low to moderate drinking —  raises estrogen levels which, according to the ACS, may explain some of the increased risk.5 Studies have shown that women who drink as little as one drink per day increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 5-9% compared to women who do not drink at all.1

Brain Damage

When consumed, alcohol lives in body water.1 Women tend to have less water in their bodies and more body fat han men, which means that women often have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than men, with the same amount of alcohol consumed at the same rates.1,2 This can lead to significant cognitive and motor function impairments even if women drink less alcohol than men.1 Additionally, women are more prone to alcohol’s short-term effects on cognitive function, including blackouts and memory issues.1

Mental Illness

Alcohol use doesn’t cause mental health issues (or vice versa). Symptoms of depression and anxiety can be made worse by alcohol use.6 Even among individuals without a diagnosed anxiety disorder, for example, anxiety symptoms can emerge after a single night of heavy drinking (sometimes called “hangxiety”).6

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

When women drink while pregnant, the alcohol in the mother’s bloodstream can pass through the umbilical cord and affect the baby.7 Drinking alcohol while pregnant has been linked to adverse outcomes including miscarriage, preterm labor, and stillbirth.7 Additionally, the impact of alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), symptoms of which can include:7

  • Abnormal facial features.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Speech and language delays.
  • Problems with kidneys, heart, and bones.
  • Attention issues. 

How Much Is Too Much?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’
“Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” moderate drinking is considered two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women.8 However, many people will often have more than the recommended amount. They may be surprised by what constitutes heavy drinking or binge drinking.  

Heavy drinking is considered:9

  • Fifteen or more drinks per week for men.
  • Eight or more drink per week for women.

Binge drinking is considered:9

  • Five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion for men.
  • Four or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion for women.

Getting Help for Alcohol Misuse and Addiction

If you’re struggling with your alcohol use, there is effective help that can get you on the road to recovery and living the life you deserve. The compassionate and knowledgeable treatment specialists at AdCare Treatment Centers in New England understand the impact of alcohol on women’s lives, and have the skillset to help women find meaningful recovery from addiction. Contact us at 24/7 to learn more about our different levels of care and your treatment options. 

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