It is no surprise that women and men are different from each other. What may be surprising are the differences in alcohol consumption and women’s health, compared to men’s. The differences in physiology between the sexes plays a significant role in how alcohol is processed, the effects of alcohol on overall health, and the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction.
Why Does Alcohol Affect Men and Women Differently?
Alcohol is processed through the digestive tract and dispersed in water. The main factors on alcohol consumption and women’s health come down to water and weight. Women tend to weigh less than men and retain less water than men do. The more water there is in the body, the more diluted the alcohol — and its effects — become. Generally speaking, women tend to absorb more alcohol and metabolize it much more slowly than men do.
Alcohol Consumption and Women’s Health
Research suggests that women suffer from alcohol-related health consequences more quickly than men — even with lower levels of consumption. For women who consume more than one drink per day, there are a whole host of negative long-term health effects. Binge-drinking especially can result in significant health consequences.
Evidence indicates that women who drink three or more alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not consume alcohol regularly. Alcohol increases levels of estrogen in the body. This increase in estrogen, along with other significant hormones, elevates the risk of developing hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
When we drink alcohol, the digestive tract –including the liver– filters alcohol. Because women tend to retain less water than men, alcohol is concentrated and is more harmful to liver cells. When liver cells are damaged through excessive drinking, they cannot repair themselves resulting in alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, or even liver cancer.
Serious Alcohol-Related Illnesses
As women get older age-related issues can start to develop — especially during menopause. However, these disorders are exacerbated or caused by heavy alcohol consumption. They include:
Infertility and Pregnancy Complications
Women who consume large amounts of alcohol tend to have heavier and longer periods, that may also be irregular. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can also affect ovulation, which may cause fertility problems.
One startling issue surrounding alcohol consumption and women’s health is the impact on pregnancy. Alcohol consumption at any point during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. It can also cause a whole host of problems for the baby, including:
- Low birth weight
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Central nervous system problems
- Growth and development issues
Due to the exposure of the brain to undiluted alcohol, women have an increased risk of experiencing blacks out while binge drinking. Women are also at a greater risk for developing neurological issues or other alcohol-related brain injuries.
Furthermore, studies link alcoholism to dementia. Alcohol use disorder accounts for more than 33% of early-onset dementia cases. Alcohol, especially in excessive amounts, can cause cognitive abnormalities and prevent the brain from creating new memories. The neurotoxic effects of alcohol have a damaging effect on neurons, leading to dementia and other cognitive issues.
Women and Binge Drinking
Previous evidence indicated that men tend to binge drink more than women. However, more recent data suggests that women are closing the binge drinking gap. While binge drinking is harmful to people, regardless of sex, it has a greater negative impact on women.
According to the National Institutes of Health, binge drinking has several significant health impacts for women. But the most alarming may be the effect on cognitive function. Working memory — the information that is used for reasoning and behavior — is less active in women who binge drink, compared to men. Binge drinking also reduces inhibitions more often in women than in men.
Alcoholism and Women
The prevalence of alcoholism among women is about as common as it is for men. According to the NIAAA, women account for the fastest-growing population of problem drinkers in the United States. There are a number of factors that may contribute to women developing an alcohol use disorder, including:
- Family members, especially parents, with a substance use disorder
- Trauma or abuse
- History of depression or anxiety
- Childhood sexual or physical abuse
- Having a significant other who abuses alcohol
- The age that she started drinking alcohol. Studies show that the earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to abuse alcohol later in life.
Shockingly, women are less likely to seek treatment than their male counterparts; perhaps due to the stigma surrounding substance abuse disorders. However, women are more likely to seek out alternative treatments, like talk therapy.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Nashville
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, there is hope. At Brentwood Springs Detox our team of caring and compassionate addiction specialists will work with you to find the right treatment to get you on the road to recovery. Take the first step to change your life for the better and contact us today.