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Why does alcohol affect women differently?

When it comes to alcohol, men and women are inherently unequal and no legislation can impose sexual equality on them. It's absolutely essential for the health and safety of women to understand this inequality and act accordingly. Contrary to common myth, not even men and women of the same height and weight experience the same effects from consuming identical amounts of alcohol.

Women are affected by alcohol more rapidly because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat than men. As fat cannot absorb alcohol, it is concentrated at higher levels in the blood. Women also have less of a gastric or stomach enzyme (dehydrogenase) that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. Because of this, women absorb up to nearly 30% more alcohol into their bloodstream than men of the same height and weight who drink the same amount of alcohol. Women are also usually shorter and lighter than men, further concentrating alcohol in their blood. Therefore, when women of average size consume one drink, it will have almost the same effect as two drinks do for the average-size man. If women eat little or skip food entirely, that compounds the effects of drinking alcohol.

Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle can also affect alcohol metabolism adversel, increasing the impact of alcohol. The bottom line is that a woman who hopes to "hold her own" in drinking against a man is putting herself at great risk. Although men and women are unequal when it comes to the effects of alcohol, that's not true of alcohol beverages themselves. Standard drinks of beer, wine or distilled spirits all contain equivalcent amounts of alcohol... they're all the same to a breathalyzer.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and other organizations have published research results that point out the increased risk women face from drinking alcohol.

  • Women absorb and metabolize alcohol in a different way than men do. Women have less body water than men of similar weight, so women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood when drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol.
  • Women eliminate alcohol from the blood more rapidly than men do, putting extra strain on the liver.
  • Women develop alcohol-induced liver disease over a shorter period of time and after consuming less alcohol than men.
  • Women who drink and drive are at greater risk than men for fatal accidents at the same blood alcohol concentration.
  • While the number of male drivers involved in alcohol-related car crashes has recently gone down, the number of women involved in alcohol-related car crashes has increased.
  • About 40 percent of women (and men) who begin drinking before age 15 will be diagnosed as alcohol dependent at some time during their life.
  • Women who were sexually or physically abused as children are more likely to have alcohol dependence problems as adults.
  • Increased alcohol consumption is directly related to increased diagnosis of breast cancer.
  • Heavy drinking causes brain shrinkage in both men and women but happens more rapidly in women.
  • Alcohol-dependent women are nearly five times more likely to attempt suicide than women who don't drink.
  • More information on alcoholism and drinking

    What is alcoholism? - Alcoholism is an addictive dependency on alcohol characterised by craving, loss of control, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
    What is alcohol abuse? - Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence.
    What are the signs and symptoms of alcoholism? - People who abuse alcohol may experience many of the same signs and symptoms as people who are dependent on alcohol.
    What causes alcoholism? - D2 dopamine receptor gene increases a person's chance of developing alcoholism. Usually, a variety of factors contribute to the development of a problem with alcohol.
    What're the risk factors for alcoholism? - Steady drinking over time can produce a physical dependence on alcohol. Drinking over 14 drinks a week for men or seven drinks a week for women increases the risk of developing dependence on alcohol.
    What are the effects of alcoholism? - Alcohol depresses your central nervous system by acting as a sedative. In some people, the initial reaction may be stimulation, but as drinking continues, sedating or calming effects occur.
    What is fetal alcohol syndrome? - Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of birth defects caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
    What is moderate drinking? - Four or five drinks may be moderate for large individuals but excessive for small or light people. The typical woman should generally consume 25 to 30 percent less than the average man.
    What're the health benefits of moderate drinking? - Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers.
    What is alcoholism treatment? - Treatment may include detoxification (the process of safely getting alcohol out of one's system), taking doctor-prescribed medications, and individual and group counseling.
    What alternative therapy is available for alcoholism? - Acupuncture may reduce anxiety and depression, which lead some people to drink alcohol. Involving a spouse in the treatment process may increase the chances of success in treatment and in staying sober after treatment.
    Why does alcohol affect women differently? - Women are effected by alcohol more rapidly because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat than men.
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