female alcohol drinking

Women are closing the gap with men when it comes to alcohol consumption. Previous research has indicated that men typically consume more alcohol than women and are more likely to abuse alcohol, drinking it to the point that it affects their health. However, a new study published in BMJ Open shows that female alcohol abuse is catching up to male’s, not only in rates of consumption but also in the rates of alcohol abuse and alcohol-related diseases.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Alcohol abuse in all of its forms is generally associated with men, but shifting consumption rates will force standard thinking to adapt. The trends of convergence between male and female alcohol abuse has been observed in different stages throughout 68 studies taking place all over the world. The studies were active between 1948 and 2014, ensuring a widely informed, representative sample size consisting of over 4 million people. [1], [5]

Many of these studies were designed to follow a group of people over the course of decades. Sixteen studies lasted for at least 20 years, while five more followed subjects for at least 30 years. The data was divided into five-year increments to observe changes in individuals who were drinking at the same time and looked at any instance of imbibing. However, the studies particularly focused on binge drinking and alcohol-related health problems.

Men born in the early 1900s were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol than women while men born in the late 20th century were only slightly more likely to drink alcohol than women. With increased consumption comes the accompanying health issues, and the group that’s experienced the brunt of these trends is millennials. They’re at the forefront of the culture that promotes shifting alcohol use and are therefore seeing the closest gap in changing male and female alcohol consumption rates. [2]

Female Alcohol Abuse & Women’s Changing Roles In Society

female alcohol abuse

The research doesn’t conclude if men are drinking less or if women are drinking more although it is generally accepted that both genders are drinking more but women are doing so more significantly. While the study wasn’t meant to determine the cause of increased female alcohol abuse, some theorize that they are a result of women’s changing roles in most societies. More than ever, women:

  • Are attending college
  • Are achieving higher positions in the workplace
  • Have buying power
  • Are on equal footing with men

These factors all introduce them to higher stress levels, some of which take place in alcohol-friendly environments. [1], [6]

Either trend alone could partially account for women drinking larger quantities but all of them together pose a stronger correlation. Whatever the causes are, public health organizations must shift their campaigns to catch the attention of women in addition to men. As long as men continue to be the focus of movements against alcohol abuse, there will be a disconnect between female alcoholics and the necessary steps to treat their condition.

Not Like The Other

In addition to consuming varying rates of alcohol, men and women process alcohol differently at the biochemical level. Contrary to popular belief, a man and a woman of comparable height and weight will not experience the same effects after consuming equal amounts of alcohol. Women have proportionately more fat and less water in their bodies resulting in them processing alcohol more slowly and causing the effects to linger for longer. Women being typically smaller than men further contributes to the gap. [3], [7]

However, the gender discrepancy goes even further than that. There is an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach before it can get to the bloodstream. Plain and simple, men have a lot more of it.

Once imbibed, alcohol goes to the stomach and then the intestines where it eventually passes to the bloodstream and finally the brain where it takes effect. In women, about 30% more alcohol reaches the bloodstream after having passed through the stomach and intestines due to their lack of alcohol dehydrogenase. The result is that significantly more alcohol is able to enact its intoxicating effect.

An additional connection was discovered between the amount of alcohol dehydrogenase an individual produces and the degree to which alcohol affects him or her. It came to light that men who are alcoholics only have about half of the normal amount of alcohol dehydrogenase and alcoholic women possess almost none of it at all. So the more alcohol affects you, the greater your chance is of developing an alcohol use disorder.

The lack of alcohol dehydrogenase helps explain why women suffer a higher degree of liver damage as their livers are forced to process greater amounts of alcohol per drink. Even healthy women are at a disadvantage when it comes to imbibing, but women who drink frequently take on huge risks. Research suggests that frequent alcohol use reduces the amount of alcohol dehydrogenase an individual produces so female alcoholics end up processing the largest amounts of alcohol per drink, resulting in them doing the greatest amount of damage to their bodies. [4]

A Way Out

female alcohol abuse treatment

Men might be better drinkers but it’s only enzymes that make it so. If you’re hearing this for the first time and you’re reminded of someone that you know, don’t hesitate to act. Unity Behavioral Health is a alcoholic recovery center located in North Palm Beach, FL that specializes in alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation for both men and women. Now that you know how gravely alcohol affects people, particularly women, don’t wait to help yourself or a loved one overcome an alcohol habit. Call us today at 772-774-3872.

  1. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/women-fast-catching-men-alcohol-consumption-abuse/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/24/gender-women-drinking-more-alcohol-men-study
  3. https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/body-fat-calculator-2/do-men-and-women-process-alcohol-differently/
  4. https://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,153672,00.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/24/women-drink-alcohol-men-global-study
  6. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/28/look-how-women-outnumber-men-college-campuses-nationwide/YROqwfCPSlKPtSMAzpWloK/story.html
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm
  8. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/suppl/2016/10/21/bmjopen-2016-011827.DC1/bmjopen-2016-011827_Press_release.pdf

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