While it’s true alcohol addiction affects more men than women, women make up about a third of problem drinkers. That’s a lot of people. What’s more, the number of women with alcohol use disorder appears to be growing. And while prolonged heavy drinking is not healthy for anyone, women may face additional risks. These are the major ones:
Women are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
Women are more affected by alcohol, more quickly, and in smaller amounts. Part of the reason is that women are, on average, smaller than men, so one serving of alcohol is proportionally larger. Women also tend to metabolise alcohol less efficiently. That means alcohol may stay in their systems longer and acetaldehyde, a dangerous intermediate product of alcohol metabolism, can do more damage to their bodies. Being more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol also makes women more prone to accidents after drinking relatively little.
Women are more prone to negative health effects from drinking.
Women are vulnerable to the same alcohol-related health problems as men, but women tend to get them much sooner. They are especially prone to liver damage, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. It’s not unusual for a woman who drinks heavily to suffer liver damage as young as 40. Women are also more prone to suffering cognitive impairments and brain shrinkage, as well as heart disease at an earlier age.
Perhaps more alarming are the additional health risks women face from excessive drinking. Women may suffer from early menopause, infertility, miscarriages. Women who drink while pregnant risk having a child with foetal alcohol syndrome, which causes developmental, cognitive, and behavioural problems. Excessive drinking also leads to osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fractures.
Heavy drinking also significantly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Alcohol increases oestrogen levels, making breast cancer more likely. A woman drinking six drinks a day increases her risk of breast cancer by almost 50 percent.
Women face special challenges in recovery.
Women are more likely to have custody of children and lack of childcare is often an impediment to treatment. Women are also more likely to depression and anxiety disorders along with addiction. These need to be treated at the same time for recovery to last.
Women are at increased risk of violence.
Women who drink are often in relationships with men who drink. Alcohol is associated with most incidents of domestic violence and women are more often the victims.
Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020