Women and Alcoholism
Women have historically exhibited lower rates of alcoholism than men, but that is changing rapidly.
The Impact of Alcoholism on Women
Alcoholism, or addiction to alcohol, is an increasing problem for women. In general, women are more prone to alcoholism compared to men based on their body compositions. Because women tend to weigh less than men and alcohol remains in body water, an average woman can consume the same amount of alcohol as an average man but be impacted more. As a result, female drinkers tend to experience adverse effects and develop alcohol-related addictions more quickly than their male counterparts. Additionally, changing social mores are making it more acceptable, and in many cases actively encouraging, women of all ages to drink. The combination of more women drinking and women drinkers being more impacted by alcohol has created a health epidemic of women and alcoholism that is impacting millions of American families.
On the flip side, women are also more likely to seek treatment for alcoholism than men. It is more socially acceptable for women to be open and honest with their feelings than it is for men, enabling women to express the need for treatment both to themselves and others with fewer reservations. Perhaps unfairly, women also bear a disproportionate share of family responsibilities than men, creating a greater urgency and need for treatment. Women who have discovered that they are pregnant or have young dependent children very frequently cite their desire to protect and support their family as their primary reason for seeking alcoholism treatment.
Women and Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. For women, binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks in less than a 2-hour period. Binge drinking is becoming an epidemic in bars and college campuses and is a steadily increasing problem for women. In 2013, 40 percent of White women, over 10 percent of Hispanic women, and less than 10 percent of black women were found to binge drink. Some of the greatest risks of binge drinking for women include:
- Increased risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism
- Liver damage
- Poor decision making
- Susceptibility to sexual assault and intimate partner violence
- Reckless and risky behavior
- Legal issues such as drinking and driving
- Poor financial decisions
- Alcohol poisoning
While many female binge drinkers are not alcoholics, they are substantially more likely to become alcoholics, especially if their dangerous behavior continues for an extended period of time. If someone you know struggles with binge drinking and needs assistance, contact a treatment professional immediately.
Ethnicity and Female Alcoholism
Women from certain ethnicities are more likely to indulge in heavy drinking than others. 71 percent of white women become heavy drinkers at some point in their lives, along with 47 percent of black women, 47 percent of Hispanic women, and 37 percent of Asian women.
Medical Risks of Alcoholism for Women
Women can suffer from a number of unique alcohol-related health risks that do not impact their male counterparts and are more susceptible to several that men do experience.
Women who consume large amounts of alcohol are at an increased risk of breast cancer. A woman has a 9 in 100 lifetime risk of getting breast cancer if she does not drink. A woman who consumes two drinks per day has a 10 in 100 risk of developing breast cancer. A woman who consumes 6 or more drinks a day has a 13 in 100 risk of breast cancer.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Drinking while pregnant creates a high risk of long-term health risks for the unborn child. This is a serious problem, as 1 in 10 pregnant women drink alcohol and 1 in 50 pregnant women binge drink. Disorders in children caused by mothers who consumed alcohol while pregnant are known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Some noticeable characteristics of children with FASDs are:
- Smaller-than-average-sized head
- Abnormal facial features
- Poor coordination
- Difficult focusing
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with body weight
- Learning disabilities
- Heart conditions
- Poor memory and concentration
- Speech and language impediments
- Lower IQ/ intellectual disabilities
- Problems with vital organs, such as kidneys, the heart, or bones
Other Health Risks for Women with Alcoholism
Women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop a number of conditions, including:
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Heart disease
- Brain damage
- Mental health conditions
- Liver disease
- Traumatic injury
- Several forms of cancer
Women And Alcoholism Statistics
Alcohol-related deaths for women between ages 35 and 54 has doubled in recent years.
In 2009, a survey surmised 47 percent of women between the ages of 12 and older in the United States admitted to drinking in the last month.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of deaths from cirrhosis among women rose 13 percent.
Between 1999 and 2008, the number of inebriated women who were hospitalized increased by 52 percent.
Does a Woman You Know Struggle with Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a challenging and debilitating experience plaguing many women. Fortunately, women are more likely to recover from alcoholism compared to men. If you, a friend or a loved one grapples with drinking,
contact a treatment professional who understands the unique needs of each person and can refer them to the best facility available. Treatment facilities tackle any underlying emotional, mental and spiritual concerns in addiction to provide overall wellness and healing.
Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: April 18, 2019
Kindy, Kimberly. Keating, Dan. (2016). For Women, Heavy Drinking Has Been Normalized. That’s Dangerous. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/for-women-heavy-drinking-has-been-normalized-thats-dangerous/2016/12/23/0e701120-c381-11e6-9578-0054287507db_story.html?utm_term=.9d03e13a9eb2
Abbey, Antonia. Ph.D. (2017). Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/media/journal/118-abbey.pdf
Glaser, Gabrielle. (2017). Elizabeth Peña and the Truth About Alcoholic Women. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://www.thedailybeast.com/elizabeth-pena-and-the-truth-about-alcoholic-women
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Women and Alcohol. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/womensfact/womensfact.htm
Healthline.com. (2017). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://www.healthline.com/health/fetal-alcohol-syndrome
Renegade Expressions. (2017). Women and Alcohol. The Hidden Risks of Drinking. Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://renegadeexpressions.com/2014/01/15/women-and-alcohol-the-hidden-risks-of-drinking/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No. 46. (1996). Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects? Retrieved on March 7, 2018 at https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm
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