Women who abuse alcohol, or even occasionally drink to excess, face greater risks to their health than their male counterparts.
Research tells us that women get intoxicated quicker than men, even taking into account the difference in body weight. But there is also evidence that they become addicted faster than men and suffer the consequences of abuse-related illnesses sooner than their male counterparts.
Alcohol increases a woman's risk of developing serious illnesses and an increased risk of heart disease, liver disease, ulcers, reproductive problems, osteoporosis, pancreatitis, memory loss, and other illnesses caused by substance and alcohol abuse.
The effects of alcohol on the liver are more severe for women than for men. Women develop alcoholic liver disease, particularly alcoholic cirrhosis and hepatitis, after a shorter period of time than men. Proportionately more alcoholic women die from cirrhosis than do alcoholic men.
Women Drinkers at Greater Heart Disease Risk
Researchers the University College London found women who drank more than the recommended safe limit increased their risk of coronary heart disease by 57 percent. Overall death rates were seven times higher among women who drank two or more drinks per day than in those who drank less than three drinks a week.
But the study also found that not drinking at all was also associated with an 80 percent increased risk of heart disease compared with those who had a couple of drinks a week.
"Small and often is probably the best method for drinking but we certainly wouldn't endorse people who don't drink go out and start as a result of this and other studies, the study's lead researcher, Dr.Annie Britton, said. "The best advice is not to drink more than the government's guidelines of around 21 units for women (roughly 12 drinks per week)."
Greater Risk of Diabetes, Breast Cancer
"Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol in many ways. Women have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol," said Lesley King-Lewis, the chief executive of the charity Action on Addiction. "This in combination with a smaller stature and lower body water content, means that women get drunk faster and stay drunk longer, which increases the health risks associated with alcohol."
"Women who drink heavily are at significantly greater risk of developing liver disease, heart disease, hypoglycemia and diabetes, breast cancer, fertility problems and mental illness, as a result of their drinking than men who drink heavily," King-Lewis said.
Other Health Problems
In the "late stages" of alcoholism in women, they also develop hypertension, anemia, and malnutrition much quicker than alcoholic men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that a woman's risk of breast cancer rises with the amount of alcohol regularly consumed. Drinking moderately or not at all can reduce the chance of getting breast cancer.
The study showed that women who drink two to five alcoholic drinks each day, were 41 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than nondrinkers. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of several digestive-tract cancers.
These health risks are even greater for older women. Women are more likely than men to start drinking heavily later in life, and many times their alcohol abuse goes undiagnosed.
Menstrual disorders have also been associated with chronic heavy drinking, which can lead to fertility problems. If a woman does get pregnant and continues to drink, it is not her health only that can be effected.
The alcohol in the blood is carried into the baby's bloodstream. Because the baby is still developing, consuming alcohol can lead to a miscarriage. It can also lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects birth defects, which are irreversible.
In fact, the dangers of drinking while pregnant are so great, the March of Dimes recommends that women stop drinking even before trying to become pregnant.
Brady KT, et al. "Gender differences in substance use disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America 1999 Jun;22(2):241-52.
Epstein EE, et al. "Women, aging, and alcohol use disorders." Journal of Women & Aging DOI: 10.1300/J074v19n01_03
National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol's Effects?" Alcohol Alerts. March 2013
Learn more about Women and Alcohol.