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Women and Alcohol

women and alcoholism

Women are Drinking More

According to recent data, more women are drinking, and women are drinking more. A 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found the following: From 2001 to 2013,  alcohol use among women in the U.S. rose nearly 16 percent. Over that same time span, the percentage of women who have four or more drinks on a given day on a weekly basis shot up 58 percent.

When it comes to alcohol consumption, research has shown that women begin experiencing problems like health issues, mood changes, and behavioral changes in relation to alcohol use faster than men do, and typically develop an addiction to alcohol more quickly than men do.

Differences in metabolism, body composition and genetics can all play a role in determining if and how quickly a person will develop health complications from alcohol consumption.

Primarily, men and women differ in their ability to metabolize alcohol due to variations in levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol. Males have high levels of ADH in their stomachs and their liver which means their bodies metabolize and filter out alcohol faster and more efficiently than women, on average.

What this can mean is women may be at risk for some of the physical issues listed below:

  • Liver disease

Body composition and efficiency of metabolizing alcohol mean more work and potential damage to the liver.

  • Changes in the brain

Women are more vulnerable than men to the negative effect of alcohol consumption that can have on the brain, namely brain shrinkage and memory loss.  What’s more, women tend to experience these negative effects on the brain after drinking less alcohol than men.

  • Damage to the heart

Alcohol abuse can damage the muscles of the heart, and women show an increased risk of developing this kind of damaging even when drinking less alcohol than men.

  • Cancer

For both men and women, any alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. For women, alcohol consumption adds an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

For women, up to 3 drinks (defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol)  on any given day, not to exceed 7 drinks in a week, is considered “low-risk” alcohol consumption. It’s important to keep in mind, however, there’s disagreement about whether any amount of alcohol consumption can truly be considered “low-risk.”

Alcoholism Treatment for Women

Women benefit from treatment that addresses their behavioral, societal and physical differentiators. From gender assigned roles around household and caregiving to natural stressors related to physical changes, women may require some specialized care elements to help them be successful in an alcohol substance abuse treatment program.

While most women will manage well in a coed program, some women will do better in an all-female program or women-only therapy groups.

This is where working closely with a professional CADC counselor to perform a rigorous treatment evaluation will be beneficial.






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