Women and Alcoholism: Knowing the Risks

Women and Alcoholism: Knowing the Risks

In this post, we discuss the risks associated with female alcoholism. Study after study confirms that women bear greater health risks than men when they experience alcoholism. This includes the risk of developing serious health complications such as liver disease, breast cancer, stroke, cancer and alcohol-induced dementia.

The onset of these ailments occurs much quicker for women too, and by far less amounts of alcohol. Furthermore, women are also more likely to abuse alcohol in order to treat co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. However, consuming alcohol only serves to ultimately aggravate these conditions.

Women who abuse alcohol are also more likely to be involved in a car accident, and go on to suffer abuse at the hands of a partner.

The health risks of female alcoholism

Below, we list some of the physical health risks that disproportionately affect women sufferers of alcoholism:

  • Brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Premature menopause
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease

The risks of breast cancer

We thought it would be particularly important to draw women’s attention towards the risk of breast cancer associated with alcoholism. Studies prove that the risk of getting breast cancer increases when you consume alcohol regularly. If you consume one glass of wine per day, you increase the risk of developing breast cancer by around 10%.

The myth of ‘healthy drinking’ or acceptable levels of drinking

For many years, Government guidelines advised you may be able to drink moderate levels of alcohol that bring positive health benefits. This is now been proven to be incorrect, and Government guidelines now reflect this by stating no level of alcohol consumption may be deemed healthy.

The currently guidelines recommend women do not consume more than three units of alcohol per day. To drink more than this amount is thought to put your health at risk. However, some experts believe even one alcohol drink per day puts women’s health at risk. If you are pregnant, you should not drink any amount of alcohol.

Studies also show that women become addicted to alcohol much quicker than do men. This means when women drink even moderate amounts, this could act as a ‘slippery slope’ and develop into full blow alcoholism. This is thought to be the case particularly for women over the age of 50, since around fifty percent of female alcoholism affect this age group. Female alcoholism also develops much quicker for women due to an effect known as ‘telescoping’.

Biological factors affecting female alcoholism

Women process alcohol at a much slower rate when compared to men. For this reason, an alcoholic drink has twice the potency for women. This is due to several female biological characteristics.

These characteristics include:

  • Body fat – a woman’s body contains more fat than man’s. Fat retains alcohol, meaning alcohol is retained for a longer period of time in a woman’s body
  • Hormones – hormone changes occur during the menstrual cycle. This also impacts how women metabolise alcohol in the body
  • Enzymes – two enzymes break down alcohol. These enzymes are known as alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Women have lower levels of both of these enzymes, meaning women absorb greater quantities of alcohol into their bloodstream when compared to men

The above factors serve to explain why women become intoxicated from alcohol at a quicker rate than men. This means it takes less amount of alcohol for a women to feel drunk.

Female sexual abuse

Sexual abuse experienced during childhood is believed to be a major cause of alcoholism suffered in adulthood for both men and women. However, women are believed to be more at risk of suffering from childhood sexual abuse, meaning they are more likely to develop alcoholism for this reason.


Another aspect of female alcoholism concerns the risks of drinking whilst pregnancy. Drinking whilst pregnant causes birth defects and mental retardation once the child is born. This is particularly a risk during the first and second trimester. For these reasons, you should entirely avoid alcohol throughout your pregnancy.

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