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Overview Of Women And Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol consumption, both in men and women is not a new phenomenon. However, research from the last few years has shown women drinking alcohol at a higher rate, nearly leveling out the consumption discrepancy of the gender gap. As recently as 2019, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health saw a previously 3:1 ratio in gendered drinking habits inch closer to a 1:1. 59.1% of men reported drinking alcohol in the past month and 51% of women reported the same.

Arguably more jarring, research shows a higher prevalence in female underage drinking both in comparison to previous years and males. 32% of high school aged girls reported drinking alcohol compared to 26% of their male peers. Binge drinking is also more common among female high school students at 15% with 13% of high school boys engaging in the dangerous drinking pattern.

What Constitutes An Addiction To Alcohol?

Considering that alcoholic beverages contain differing amounts of alcohol, it is important to first understand what constitutes as a drink.

A standard alcoholic beverage is approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol which is measured differently depending on the drink:

  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer; 5% alcohol
  • 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor; 7% alcohol
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine; 12% alcohol
  • 5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits or liquor; 40% alcohol

By and large, an addiction to alcohol is defined by one’s inability to regulate their drinking despite negative consequences in various areas of their lives. If you are concerned about your own drinking habits or those of a loved one, reach out to a treatment provider to ask questions and learn more about treatment options.

What’s The Difference Between Men And Women?

On average, women tend to suffer from alcohol-related health concerns from lower amounts of alcohol consumption than men. While women are drinking increasingly more alcohol and at higher rates, there are biological factors in play as well. In the early 1990s, scientists studied blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in men and women and found that for the same amount of alcohol each sex consumed, women have a harder time metabolizing the alcohol. Ethanol (the alcoholic compound in beverages) is broken down in the body by alcohol dehydrogenase, a specific type of enzyme that helps to oxidize the alcohol. In the same study, women were discovered to produce less of these metabolizing enzymes.

In general, women also weigh less than men and in terms of body composition, men have higher volumes of water. However, women also tend to have a higher percentage of body fat which alcohol does not permeate; it prefers the solubility of water found in the bloodstream. There is still a need for more research on the various differences between men and women because it’s only been within the last few decades that women and the specific, associated health risks with drinking alcohol have been explicitly studied. Until the 1990s, all clinical trials studied men exclusively and extrapolated that the data would apply to women we well.

Breast Cancer

Numerous studies illustrate a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and the development of breast cancer, even in cases of light drinking. Research shows that women who drink at least one alcoholic beverage a day have a 5-9% chance of developing breast cancer and that percentage increases with every drink consumed per day.

Pregnancy And Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

There is no safe or harmless amount of alcohol one can consume while pregnant. Alcohol, in any capacity, can severely impact the life and health of the fetus and the mother. Because a developing baby absorbs all of its nutrients through the mom’s bloodstream, alcohol can pass from mother to child, affecting brain development, critical organs, and other bodily systems. Exposure to alcohol in the womb is one of the leading causes of neurodevelopmental anomalies and birth defects in the United States and because of the wide range of complications, problems can arise at any time during childhood and last the course of the child’s life.

Domestic Abuse

Research shows that nearly 1 in 3 women (and 1 in 4 men) experience physical, sexual violence over the course of their lives. Nearly half of sexual assaults across college campuses involved alcohol consumption by either the perpetrator, the victim, or both, and in most cases the individuals were not in a romantic relationship, but rather were casually acquainted with one another. However, there is also plenty of research showing a strong relationship between drinking and domestic violence, particularly in cases where both partners had been drinking.

Lesbians And Transgender Women

Historically, The LGBTQ community has had a higher rate of substance abuse due to the social stigmas and prejudices associated with being a sexual minority. Studies have shown that lesbians are 3 times as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) when compared to their heterosexual counterparts. With COVID-19 pausing most outings and gatherings and many people lost their homes or jobs and had to move in with family, LGBTQ folks, and women particularly, suffered from increased substance use. One study cited that 46% of transgender female students increased their alcohol consumption since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women Only Treatment Centers

Because of the cultural landscape of society, the importance of emphasizing and promoting women-only spaces, facilities, and centers is clear. Many women might feel unsafe or otherwise traumatized in rehabilitation programs that serve both men and women; the mere presence of a man, be he a fellow patient or provider could very likely trigger a woman recovering from an AUD and sexual/domestic violence. On a large scale, women from all over the world suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty, gender-based discrimination, and interpersonal violence and having a space free from the pressures and expectations of men can be paramount in women’s recovery.

Get Help For Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with an inability to regulate their drinking, contact a treatment provider today to learn about treatment options and begin the journey toward recovery. Remember that you are not alone and there are countless people and resources available to assist you; your best life is yet to come.