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Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?

The effect of alcohol on women versus men is a topic that seems to be cloaked in secrecy. Like the disease itself, it is rarely discussed. Is this because only the health care and treatment community understands the topic? Or could it be that because women have fought so long for equality with men, neither sex wants to admit that when it comes to the effects of drinking, men and women are not alike?

To many, the idea that men are able to hold their liquor better than a woman is simply a cliché based on testosterone and ego. But according to extensive scientific research it appears that this cliché is, in fact, grounded in truth.

A report posted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shed light on the differing effects of alcohol on women vs. men.

Metabolism – Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. In general, women have less body water than men of similar body weight, so women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol.

Liver Damage – Compared with men, women develop alcohol-induced liver disease over a shorter period of time and after consuming less alcohol. In addition, women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis and to die from cirrhosis.

Brain Damage – Views of the brain obtained by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suggest that women may be more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage.

Breast Cancer – Studies report that women with moderate to heavy alcohol consumption may have an increased risk for breast cancer.

Violent Victimization – A survey of female college students found a significant relationship between the amounts of alcohol the women reported drinking each week and their experiences of sexual victimization. Another study found that female high school students who used alcohol in the past year were more likely than non-drinking students to be the victims of dating violence. Additionally, a history of heavy premarital drinking by both partners has been found to predict first-year aggression among newlyweds.

Traffic Crashes – Although women are less likely than men to drive after drinking and to be involved in fatal alcohol-related crashes, women have a higher relative risk of driver fatality than men at similar blood alcohol concentrations. Laboratory studies of the effects of alcohol on responding to visual cues and other tasks suggest that there may be gender differences in how alcohol affects the performance of driving tasks.

Although a woman’s risk for alcohol abuse or dependency can be influenced by genetics, early initiation of drinking, and victimization, scientific study shows that the effects of the disease on a woman’s health and future are significant. In order to eliminate the stigma of addiction and recovery, we need to educate not only women, but their families, employers and communities as to why they are at greater risk for significant loss. With this knowledge, we can empower women to seek the treatment they need and deserve, and help them on their journey of recovery.