Women and Alcoholism

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

alcoholic woman

Alcoholism or a severe dependence on alcohol plagues many people. Women are no exception to this. However, many women choose to keep their disorder under wraps. This is because dealing with alcoholism is a challenge, especially when there are societal expectations on you. So what is it that causes females to heavily drink regularly, and why is it so dangerous?

Statistics Of Alcoholism In Females

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 46% of females admit to having consumed alcohol in the last month. 12% of women also admit to having consumed an excess amount on at least three occasions during the same period. On these occasions, 12% averaged over five drinks per binge. This amount is well above the recommended daily allowance and highlights the issue of binge drinking and alcoholism in women.

Of the females who binge drink, 90% become alcoholics and engage in alcoholism. Although statistics highlight than 2% fewer women meets this criterion than men, it doesn’t make their situation any less volatile or dangerous. Females are exposed to different dangers from alcohol than men are. These dangers are arguably even more problematic than that of men due to the abundance of complications with health, pregnancy, violence, and sexual assault, that come with excessive consumption of the substance. The child of an alcoholic mother is also more likely to abuse alcohol.

Excessive consumption is known to increase the chance of heart and lung related issues, far more in females than males. This is the case even with females who consume far less of the substance, with alcoholism set in at lower levels.

What Causes Females To Drink In Excess

There are many reasons why a person may turn to alcohol, from mental health to social pressure. However, male reasons differ to female reasons for turning to drink and alcoholism. Here are some of the reasons a woman may become dependent on a regular intake of alcohol:

  • Sexual Abuse – This is one of the most situations in which a woman becomes dependent on alcohol. Sexual abuse is more likely to happen to a woman, and many females do not have the support they need to overcome the psychological battle that comes with the abuse. This leads them to turn to alcoholism.
  • Postnatal depression – This is believed to be caused by the severe hormonal, physical and emotional changes that occur after giving birth. Postpartum depression is a frequent cause of women turning to alcohol to solve their issues. Many believe the drug to numb there issues, despite the fact alcohol is a depressant. This leads to excessive consumption to escape the emotional and physical imbalances. Although postnatal depression can occur in both genders, females tend to experience it far more harshly than men, due to having to deal with physical changes simultaneously.
  • Genetics – It is believed that it is possible to be genetically predisposed to alcoholism. Some women may be far more likely than others to engage in regular binge drinking. Despite this, there usually still has to be some form of a trigger when it comes to alcohol abuse in women.
  • Stress – Arguably the most significant cause of alcoholic women, stress is caused by some everyday life events or more substantial events. Because of alcohol’s numbing abilities, many women choose to use the substance as a way of getting through the day and overcoming the arduous issues that come with it.
  • Mental Health – Both genders are exposed to the issue of mental health. A common female solution is alcohol and turning to alcoholism. When it comes to anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, people often find it a challenge. Alcohol is an easily accessed substance which many think can numb those anxieties and issues. However, it tends to do the opposite and creates alcoholism, an issue that can plague the person in the long run.

glass of red wine and a woman on the background

Why Alcohol Affects Women Faster Than Men

There are a few reasons why women and alcohol have a different relationship with men and alcohol. One of those reasons is the effects of the substance. Alcohol effects ladies far faster than men. So why is this?

One reason alcohol hits females faster and harder is dehydrogenase. This little-known enzyme is far less frequent in women. This is important, as the enzyme is responsible for breaking down alcohol and ridding it from our systems before it enters the bloodstream. Due to their being less of the enzyme in females, more gets through and enters the blood as purer alcohol. This causes ladies to get drunk faster and easier.

Another reason females are affected faster is BMI. Women have less fatty tissues than men and therefore less to dilute the alcohol. This exposes organs to the substance faster and longer. The substance, therefore, remains in higher concentrations in the body of a woman than a man. This is also the reason why females suffer from greater liver and heart damage from alcohol.

Hormones can also be an influence on how quickly alcohol sets in. Due to the menstrual cycle, a woman’s hormones fluctuate far more than a man’s. When estrogen levels are higher, alcohol sets in faster. In addition to that, alcohol even increases estrogen levels itself. Meaning anything like birth control pills can make women intoxicated at an even quicker rate.

Risks And Dangers Of Female Alcoholism

There are some risks that come with women and alcohol abuse. Some of those risks are physical health risks, some psychological and other social. However, all present a high level of danger than is further exasperated when more alcohol is consumed.

Physical health risks include:

  • Cancer – The likelihood is higher for women who engage in alcoholism
  • Brain damage – organs suffer more in females, due to them being unable to break down alcohol as quickly
  • Heart issues – the brain isn’t the only organ that suffers from high alcohol content.
  • Liver issues – The liver is the organ that takes the forefront of the problems when it comes to addiction to alcohol. The female body cannot deal with the substance as well as the male body.
  • Problematic pregnancies – Excessive consumption can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome in case of drinking while pregnant.

Psychological Issues may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Reckless actions
  • Mood swings
  • Anger issues

Despite the psychological effects of alcoholism being similar for both sexes, female psychological symptoms are often faster to make an impact than male symptoms. This is due to ladies being affected faster by alcohol in both the long and short-term.

Social risks include:

  • Inability to manage relationships
  • Divorce or the end of intimacy
  • Job loss or educational failings
  • Exposure to dangerous situations that may lead to sexual assault, assault or other occurrences

Why Alcoholism Is Less Obvious In Women

In many cases, the signs of an alcoholic woman are difficult to spot. Alcohol has a faster and stronger effect on ladies, meaning that there is less time to notice a trend developing when it comes to alcohol consumption. Women tend to suffer harsher effects from the substances consumption too, which means spotting the early signs of alcoholism in women is vital.

Another critical reason alcoholism is harder to spot in women is that many people do not know what they are looking for. Due to a woman’s symptoms being slightly different from those of a man, many people are looking for the wrong kind of symptoms and therefore do not see what is right in front of them. For example, female symptoms are often more sudden onset than male symptoms. They also tend to hit harder for the same reason. Despite this, societal expectation often pressures women into being stable. Therefore it is often challenging to tell, as women are pushed to hold themselves together regardless of the situation.
female holding glass with alcohol with her head resting on the table

Gender-Specific Alcoholism Treatment

Because of alcohol and women’s unique relationship, gender-specific alcohol dependence treatment is required. Gender-specific treatment is needed due to the unique physical, psychological and social effects the substance can have on females. These include organ damage, depression, and exposure to violence. For these reasons, women’s alcohol treatment often centers around removing the substance from the system, as well as ensuring women have the support they need for any mental health or abuse issues in sober living houses.

The gender-specific rehab for alcoholics will offer female-focused dual diagnosis or support for the cause of their alcoholism. This may be a way to get back on track such as employment, or merely psychological support to help them overcome abuse.


Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma

Content Writer

Marixie Ann Manarang-Obsioma is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). She took her Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology at Angeles University Foundation and graduated with flying colors.

The combination of having a good medical background, being a mom, and wanting to help people, especially the elderly has cultivated her passion for working in remote areas with love and compassion.
Marixie likes to travel, read, and watch movies.

Medical review by Brian Obodeze

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