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Effects of Alcohol on Health

In 2020, 9% of women overall had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction.

Navigation: Why Do Women Drink Alcohol?, How Much Alcohol is Too Much for Women?, Effects of Alcohol on Women’s Health, Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer, Alcohol’s Effect on Fertility and Pregnancy, Effects of Alcohol on Women’s Mental Health, Alcohol Dependence and Addiction in Women, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Although heavy drinking is commonly associated with men, women are just as likely to abuse alcohol. In fact, nearly half of adult women report drinking alcohol within the past month.

Binge drinking is very common among women who drink. This is the act of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time. Almost 18% of women who are ages 18 to 44 binge drink. Among the 13% of adult women who report binge drinking, 25% of them do so at least weekly.

In 2020, 9% of women overall had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as a chronic brain disorder characterized by an inability to control or stop alcohol consumption even when the person is already experiencing the consequences. It is considered a medical condition and falls under the broader category of substance use disorders (SUDs).

It is important to understand the potential effects of alcohol on a woman’s body as their body composition is different and will therefore achieve a higher blood level of alcohol for each drink compared to men. Simply put, women can get intoxicated faster and have a higher risk of developing long-term health problems.

There has been much debate around the subject of alcohol’s health benefits. Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may have certain positive effects on health, but it is essential to understand that these potential benefits need to be balanced against the risks associated with alcohol consumption.

For women, it is easier to cross the fine line between healthful and harmful drinking. It’s easy for social drinkers to eventually develop more serious problems such as drug and alcohol dependence. Let’s take a closer look at the effects of alcohol on women’s health.


Why Do Women Drink Alcohol?

Women, like men, may choose to drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. It’s essential to recognize that individual preferences and motivations for drinking can vary widely.

Some women drink in order to socialize with their friends. Alcohol is often consumed in social settings, such as parties, gatherings, or events. It can help people feel more relaxed and sociable in these situations. This is often enough motivation for women to drink.

Like men, women may be influenced by their peers to drink alcohol. Social dynamics and the desire to fit in or be part of a group can impact their drinking choices. If their friends and colleagues drink, they are more likely to drink as well.

Many people, regardless of gender, enjoy the taste and experience of different alcoholic drinks. Some may drink alcohol as a way to savor different flavors or enhance their dining experience.

It’s also perfectly normal to drink alcohol in most cultures. It’s often used for social rituals and celebrations. Social norms and traditions can play a significant role in shaping drinking behavior.

Some women may use alcohol as a means of coping with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. It can temporarily alleviate feelings of tension or pressure. Alcohol can create a sense of relaxation and escape from daily pressures, which some people find appealing.

It’s also possible for people to get influenced by advertising, social media, and other portrayals of alcohol that can make it seem appealing or glamorous.

It’s important to remember that not all women drink for the same reasons. Some women choose not to consume alcohol at all due to personal preferences, health reasons, religious beliefs, or concerns about the potential negative effects.

Whatever the reason, excessive alcohol consumption can be dangerous for anyone regardless of gender. It is essential to be mindful of your alcohol consumption and make informed choices about drinking.


How Much Alcohol is Too Much for Women?

We all know how important it is to avoid heavy alcohol consumption, but how much is too much alcohol for women?

The exact amount of alcohol that is considered “too much” for women can vary depending on several unique factors, such as body weight, metabolism, age, health condition, and any medications they may be taking.

Generally speaking, women should limit their alcohol consumption to lower levels than men due to physiological differences.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health organizations, moderate alcohol consumption for women is defined as up to one drink per day. A standard drink in the United States is typically defined as containing about 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol, which is roughly equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (with about 5% alcohol content).
  • 5 ounces of wine (with about 12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor (with about 40% alcohol content).

Drinking more than these recommended amounts can increase the risk of developing health problems like liver disease, heart disease, certain cancers, addiction, and mental health issues.

Now let’s take a closer look at these specific health effects that women may experience due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Effects of Alcohol on Women’s Health

It’s a well-known fact that alcohol affects women differently than men. Despite drinking more often and consuming larger amounts, the biological differences in body structure and chemistry of men allows them to not get intoxicated as quickly as women.

Women who drink tend to absorb more alcohol. They also take longer to metabolize it. This means even when they drink the same amount of alcohol, women will generally have a higher blood alcohol level than men.

The immediate effects of alcohol may occur faster and last longer in women compared to men. With all of these in mind, women are more likely to suffer from long-term negative health effects of heavy alcohol use.

Keep in mind that moderate alcohol consumption may not be harmful to everyone. However, excessive or chronic alcohol use can lead to various health issues for women, including liver damage, heart disease, hormonal disturbances, etc.

Here are some of the most common health problems encountered by women who drink excessively:

Liver damage: Women are more susceptible to liver damage from alcohol compared to men, as their bodies process alcohol differently. Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to liver diseases like alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Heart health: Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with some potential cardiovascular benefits in both men and women, but excessive alcohol intake can increase the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle), and stroke in women.

Bone health: Heavy drinking can lead to decreased bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially in postmenopausal women who are already at risk due to hormonal changes.

Hormonal disturbances: Speaking of hormonal changes, alcohol consumption can disrupt hormone levels in women, leading to menstrual irregularities and exacerbating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

But one of the most dangerous potential effects of alcohol use disorder in women is the increased risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that even low to moderate alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer in women. The risk is higher in postmenopausal women and those with a family history of breast cancer.

Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer

Research has shown a potential link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Several studies have indicated that there is an increased risk of developing breast cancer with higher alcohol consumption.

The more alcohol a person consumes, the higher their risk of developing breast cancer. Even moderate alcohol intake has been associated with an increased risk, although the risk is generally higher in heavy drinkers.

The exact mechanism by which alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer is not entirely understood. However, it is believed that alcohol can raise estrogen levels, which may contribute to the development of hormone-sensitive breast cancers.

The connection between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk may also be influenced by a person’s age and genetic predisposition to the disease.

It’s important to note that alcohol consumption is just one of several risk factors for breast cancer. Other risk factors include age, family history, hormone replacement therapy, and certain genetic mutations.

Alcohol’s Effect on Fertility and Pregnancy

There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy. This is the most important thing to remember.

Alcohol consumption can affect fertility in women by disrupting hormonal balance and menstrual cycles. It is therefore essential for pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely, as it can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) leading to physical, behavioral, and cognitive problems in the child.

The most severe version of this is called fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS. This condition is associated with birth defects and intellectual disabilities.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta to the baby. The developing fetus lacks the ability to process alcohol like adults do, and as a result, alcohol can cause a range of problems.

Unfortunately drinking among pregnant women is also common. One study showed that 10% of participants who were pregnant drank alcohol. At the same time, 4.5% of them engaged in binge drinking.

FASDs are 100% preventable if alcohol is avoided during pregnancy and even while trying to become pregnant. Other risks associated with alcohol use during pregnancy include an increased risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, premature delivery, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS.

While alcohol consumption can affect both male and female fertility, alcohol can disrupt the hormonal balance and menstrual cycle of women, leading to irregular ovulation. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption can affect the health of eggs and interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.

If you are trying to conceive or are planning to become pregnant, it is advisable for both partners to minimize alcohol intake. Reducing alcohol consumption can improve fertility outcomes and reduce potential risks to the baby during the crucial early stages of development.

Effects of Alcohol on Women’s Mental Health

Alcohol does not just affect a person’s physical health but also their mental health. Women are more prone to alcohol-induced brain damage than men, and chronic alcohol abuse can lead to memory problems, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of developing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Women are more susceptible to developing anxiety and depression disorders, and alcohol can exacerbate these conditions. Alcohol is a depressant that can alter brain chemistry and lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and increased anxiety.

Alcohol can also impair cognitive function, leading to problems with memory, decision-making, and concentration. These cognitive deficits can further contribute to mental health challenges in women.

Sleep disturbances is another common effect of alcohol abuse that contributes to the development of mental health disorders. While alcohol may initially induce drowsiness and promote sleep, it disrupts the quality of sleep, leading to sleep disturbances and increased risk of insomnia. Poor sleep can negatively impact mental health, exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Generally speaking, women experience a faster progression from first use to the development of alcohol use disorder compared to men. This disorder can have severe consequences on their mental health as well as their relationships.

It is essential for women to be aware of these potential effects and exercise moderation or avoid alcohol consumption altogether if they have a history of mental health issues or are at risk for developing them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use or mental health concerns, seeking professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health specialist is crucial for proper assessment and support.

Alcohol Dependence and Addiction in Women

Alcohol dependence and addiction in women, like in men, is a serious and complex issue with physical, psychological, and social consequences.

Although dependence and addiction are two terms that are commonly used interchangeably, they are not actually the same thing. Alcohol addiction is characterized by the compulsive intake of alcohol even when the person is already experiencing the adverse health effects. They will keep drinking alcohol even when they are suffering from its effects. Alcohol becomes their main priority, and so everything else takes a backseat.

Dependence on the other hand is when the person’s body has adjusted to the constant presence of alcohol. When a dependent person stops drinking alcohol or attempts to lower their intake, they experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. They have to drink again just to feel normal.

Historically, alcohol use disorders were more common in men, but the gender gap has been narrowing in recent years. Studies have shown that women are increasingly at risk of developing alcohol dependence and addiction.

Overall, women generally have a lower body water content and higher body fat percentage than men. As a result, when they consume alcohol, the concentration of alcohol in their blood tends to be higher, leading to a greater impact on their organs and tissues.

Women tend to metabolize alcohol differently than men due to variations in the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol in the liver. This can lead to increased susceptibility to the negative effects of alcohol and an elevated risk of alcohol-related liver diseases.

Unfortunately, societal stigmas around women and alcohol use can hinder women from seeking help for their addiction. There might be additional barriers, such as childcare responsibilities, financial dependence, and fear of losing custody of children, that can deter women from seeking treatment.

Look for a rehab facility near you today if you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use disorder and addiction. The journey to lasting sobriety begins today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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