Women and Alcohol: Why Their Health Risks Are Greater Than Men's

Why does alcohol cause more health problems for women than men? Find out why women are more vulnerable.

Ever wonder why men seem to hold their liquor better than women? Women react differently to alcohol than men, studies show. Alcohol takes more of a toll on women physically, mentally and socially.They become intoxicated more quickly and do not absorb and metabolize alcohol the same way. Women have less water in their bodies than men, so the alcohol they take in is more concentrated.

Age enters the equation, too. Older women may find that drinking alcohol affects them more than it did when they were younger. Aging causes the amount of water in the body to decrease, making it harder for the body to metabolize alcohol.

Alcohol may hit women harder
Fewer women than men drink heavily, but they have as many or more problems from their drinking. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

  • Drinking is more likely to damage a woman's health than a man's - even if she has been drinking less alcohol for a shorter time.
  • Alcoholic women have death rates 50 percent to 100 percent higher than alcoholic men. These include deaths from suicide, brain diseases, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, cancer, stroke and liver disease.
  • Heavy drinking raises a woman's risk for being a victim of sexual assault and other acts of violence. Teenage girls who drink raise their risks for unplanned sex.
  • Drinking while pregnant puts your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome. This birth defect can cause problems with learning, memory, attention and problem-solving in the growing child.

Linked to cancer
Women who have two or more drinks per day actually raise their risk for breast cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, women who choose to drink should limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one per day. This is especially important if the woman also has a family history of breast cancer.

Recent data from a study of 1 million middle-aged women in the UK showed that moderate drinking increased their risk for many types of cancer. For every 1000 women, 15 more women were diagnosed with cancer in the moderate drinking group. Eleven out of these 15 women had breast cancer.

How much is too much?
How can you tell the difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking? Women who have more than seven drinks per week or more than four on a given day are more likely to have alcohol dependency.

According to the NIAAA, moderate alcohol use is one drink per day for women, two for men. One drink is equal to a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

If you think you might have a drinking problem, answer these questions:

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves?
  • Have other people complained about your drinking?
  • Do you have to drink more now than you used to for the same effects?

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, talk to your doctor or a therapist about your drinking.