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Women and Alcohol Related Problems

As the school year comes to an end and summer starts, children will undoubtedly find themselves with more free time in the absence of school work. Many high school and college age students will use this time to find a summer job, complete internships, and enjoy the extra time outdoors. Unfortunately, many teens and young adults will also use this time to engage in dangerous and illegal drinking activities. These activities can expose young adults to a variety of consequences. In fact, adults of ages will tend to abuse alcohol at the more frequent summer get-togethers. Recent studies show that the consequences of alcohol abuse are even more exaggerated in women.

Drinking alcohol underage is illegal but more than 10% of all alcohol drank in the United States is by those who are underage. And of those that drink underage, over 90% of alcohol consumed is consumed in the form of binge drinking. Binge drinking is the most dangerous form of drinking for those both underage and of age to drink. Binge drinking can more easily cause liver disease, emergency department visits, and premature death.

It is common knowledge that women are more affected immediately because of alcohol. This is normally attributed to their lower body weight. The more severe effects to women can also be attributed to women’s lower concentration of both water and muscle in their bodies. This means that when women binge drink, their blood alcohol content rises much faster than men’s and stays raised longer. What most people don’t know is that long term alcohol-based effects are also more severe in women. Even when binge drinking at much lower levels than men, women have alcohol related problems at an earlier age and often have more intense side effects.

It seems that maladies of the liver show the most severe differences between men and women. Comparative to men who binge drink, women drink only about 60% as much but have much less healthy livers. The rate of liver disease in women increased almost 40% more than the rate in men from 1999 to 2014. When comparing women and men with alcoholic liver disease, women reach fibrosis (a severe side effect) more quickly than men. This trend remains even after women stop drinking.

A big difference between women’s and men’s drinking problems is the severe change in the pattern of women’s drinking. In the early 1900s, men drank 2.2 times as much as women and were 3.6 times more likely to suffer from alcohol related harms. But by the end of the twentieth century, both of these rates had decreased to almost even. In many countries of the world, the gap between women’s and men’s drinking has narrowed. In the vast majority of these cases, it is because women’s drinking has increased, not because men are drinking less.

There is a large gap in treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder among women and men. Primary care physicians are 24% more likely to refer a man to behavioral therapy for substance abuse problems. However, specialists in these therapy programs seem to find a completely opposite trend. One study shows that women struggle with substance abuse problems 20% more than men. Females are more likely to have substance abuse problems brushed off as mental health problems than men are. A stigma also remains about women and drinking. Many times doctors will not screen women for alcohol abuse disorder because the idea of these women who “have their life together” struggling with alcohol related problems seems preposterous.

The underlying reasons for women drinking more are not necessarily bad in their own right. More women these days are financially independent and make their own decisions compared to women 100 years ago. In fact, income over $75,000 is a large factor in the rate of drinking. While it is positive that women can make their own decisions, it is important that women educate themselves on the specific problems that alcohol can pose to them. Until the healthcare system adjusts to the modifications in women’s alcohol habits, it is likely that a gap will be present for women seeking care.

Learn about underage alcohol consumption here

Learn about women and alcohol abuse here

Read a study on the changing rates of consumption between men and women here

Learn how to get help for someone struggling with alcohol abuse disorder here


Editor: Maria ‘Stefi’ Ticsa