Women and alcohol
Alcohol use among women can lead to many long-term health issues.
Women and men metabolize alcohol differently, creating significant differences in the way in which men and women respond to alcohol.
Alcohol is Canada’s drug of choice
Recent data from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse shows that women are beginning to use and misuse alcohol at levels similar to men. The alcohol industry and advertisers are targeting women with fruity ‘starter beverages’ and the promise of a glamorous lifestyle.
As women balance multiple roles and responsibilities, they may experience higher or more frequent stressors than usual. Many women also use alcohol as a way to cope with violence experienced as children or adults. While a small amount of alcohol may result in short-term stress relief, using alcohol does not address the root causes of the stress. Repeated use of alcohol to reduce feelings of stress may increase anxiety levels and lead to dependence on alcohol.
Health impacts for women
For younger females, using alcohol puts them at risk of serious health conditions. Chronic, heavy drinking during adolescence and the young adult years can lead to a significant compromise in bone quality and may increase a woman’s risk of osteoporosis later in life. Use of alcohol in adolescence can also disrupt a woman’s natural menstrual cycle and reproductive function.
For elderly women, it takes less alcohol to experience the same effects compared to younger women. They should consider this factor when making decisions about their alcohol use.
Long-term heavy use of alcohol among women leads to various long-term health issues, including:
- Liver cirrhosis – Women are more likely than men to develop cirrhosis of the liver after a shorter period of time and with lower consumption of alcohol, and as a result, are also more likely to die from cirrhosis.
- Violence – Women are at a greater risk of violent experiences, such as sexual assault, when drinking heavily.
- Alcohol baby – Women who use alcohol while pregnant risk having a baby born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (Canada FASD Research Network).
Alcohol use in women contributes to the more rapid development of:
These health problems are even worse if women smoke or use other substances and if they are exposed to environmental toxins.
Why the difference between men and women?
We know about some of the risks related to using alcohol, but because women’s bodies are different from men’s, some of those risks are also different. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently, creating significant differences in the way in which men and women respond to alcohol. The following mechanisms help to explain these differences:
- Women generally weigh less than men, which results in higher blood alcohol concentration levels compared to those who weigh more.
- Women have less water in their bodies to help dilute the alcohol in their blood stream, which results in a more rapid increase in the blood-alcohol concentration.
- Women’s bodies have lower levels of the enzyme that is needed to metabolize alcohol. This allows a higher concentration of alcohol to enter the bloodstream.
- Women have estrogen that makes their bodies more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, especially if they are using an oral contraceptive (the “pill”) or if alcohol is used just before their period.
This item was last modified on September 20, 2016