Rios: How does heavy drinking impact women?

Recent studies on alcohol misuse show a significant increase in heavy drinking among women.

Melissa Rios

This trend raises concerns because research shows that women face a higher risk of certain alcohol-related health issues compared to men. Alcohol consumption related health issues can occur earlier for women, and at lower levels of consumption.

For women, the effects of alcohol on the body differ from men due to body chemistry. If a man and woman consume the same amount of alcohol, women will likely have a higher blood alcohol level. Women absorb more alcohol than men, speeding up and extending the effects of alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these differences also increase the probability of long-term health problems among women who misuse alcohol.

Heavy drinking is a common pattern of excessive alcohol use. Although most women who drink are not alcoholics, alcoholism is a progressive disease and heavy drinking could lead to alcohol dependence over time.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identified the following long-term health problems for women who drink heavily:

  • Liver damage: Women who drink heavily run a higher risk of liver inflammation than men. In addition, women who drink excessively develop alcoholic hepatitis at a faster and higher rate than men who drink heavily.
  • Heart disease: Extended heavy drinking is a prominent cause of heart disease. Women are more likely to suffer from heart disease caused by alcohol misuse than men, even with lower consumption rates. Specific risks include high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
  • Brain damage: Brain damage caused by extended heavy drinking occurs faster in women. Women are also prone to blackouts and significant memory loss caused by heavy drinking. Heavy alcohol use can also lead to memory and learning problems, including dementia.
  • Breast cancer: Women who drink every day increase their chances of developing breast cancer, with a five to nine percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who abstain. The risk increases with each additional drink per day. Additional risks include cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon.
  • Mental health disorders: Regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain. Women who drink heavily are susceptible to developing disorders including substance use disorder, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
  • Women who drink heavily may not always develop a dependency on alcohol. However, the impact can still be significant as women face particular long-term health risks related to excessive drinking.

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Melissa Rios
Dually licensed outpatient program director
Valley Hope

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