Do Women Approach Alcohol Differently than Men?

December 31, 2013

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Women and Alcohol

When you go online and look on Facebook or Reddit, there has been an increased number of memes and jokes that focus on women and alcohol consumption. While “Mommy Needs Wine” is treated as a fun joke to “let off some steam,” one would have to think whether the response would be the same if the joke were “Daddy Needs Beer“. However, that discrepancy does lead to an interesting question – do women approach drinking differently than men do? It was time to do some research and find out what, if anything, the differences were between men, women and alcohol consumption.

More Women are Binge Drinking

It has certainly become apparent that women are certainly not far behind men when it comes to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Recent statistics from the CDC estimate that almost 14 million women throughout the country binge drink about three times every month. Binge drinking for women is defined as having more than four drinks in a single period. While the definition begins at four, most women who were surveyed admitted to having consumed at least six drinks on average. Women in high school and women between the ages of 18 to 34 are at an increased risk of binge drinking as well. The CDC report suggested that one out of every five teenage girls binge drink. This type of behavior leads to serious health risks, including stroke, liver disease, alcohol poisoning and unintentional injuries.

Women and Alcohol Don’t Mix as Well

Even though the reasons are not fully understood yet, women’s bodies are unable to handle the consumption of alcohol as well as men’s bodies are. One of the possible reasons could be that estrogen (the female hormone) may possibly interact with alcoholic beverages in such a way that it increases the chances of liver problems. Alternatively, the difference in stomach enzymes between both sexes may also play an important role.

Finally, it is important to understand that compared to men, women’s bodies have less water per pound of body-weight. This means that if a man and woman of equal weight drink the exact same amount, the woman is likely to have a far higher blood alcohol level. This is because water helps dilute the alcohol and the woman’s body simply has less water in her system.

Drinking Can Become Problematic at Far Lower Levels

The main reason behind this is that women are unable to process alcohol the same way that men are. This puts them at far greater risk for related problems. These problems may include specific health diseases and other risks, including addiction, breast cancer, heart disease and liver disease. This means that if men and women drink at similar levels, it is far more likely for the woman to become dependent before the man does.

Fortunately, studies suggest that women will admit far faster that they may have alcohol-related issues. Compared to their male counterparts, women tend to seek out professional addiction treatment upwards of four to five years earlier. Even though there is no clear indicator that identifies why this is, the hypothesis given by a senior research scientist at Stanford University is that women may attach less of a social stigma to having problems with alcoholism than men do. This would mean they are more likely to accept treatment.

It Increases the Risk of Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, drinking alcoholic beverages has clear links to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Whereas it only leads to a very small increase in overall risk when a woman only has a drink every day, a woman who consumes five alcoholic drinks daily has a 150 percent increase of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink. While there are many other contributing factors that determine whether a woman develops breast cancer or not, it is obvious that drinking does contribute.

It Affects Older Women More than Younger Women

As people get older, they gain fat and lose muscle. As a result, the body is unable to break down alcohol quite as fast as before. This means that older people become more sensitive to its effects. Even if people drink the same amount as before, it is going to affect them more than it would have several years earlier. Even though older people tend to consume less than younger people do, there are still those who drink enough to do harm.

Once a woman reaches menopause, she is going to be affected by changing hormones. Drinking may trigger some menopausal symptoms such as night sweats or hot flashes. It may also cause a woman to gain weight and disrupt her sleep schedule. Drinking in excess has the ability to make both of these issues even worse.

Moreover, our bones become thinner and more brittle as we age. This is especially true for women after menopause. Drinking can make these problems even worse, which increases the risk of osteoporosis. This causes the bones to become fragile and weak and may increase the chances of breakage.

Finally, many people mistakenly identify alcohol problems among older adults as aging-related conditions. This means that health care providers often miss problems associated with drinking in excess, especially in older women.

An Industry that is Now Actively Targeting Women and Alcohol Drinking

Despite the differences between men and women regarding how the body reacts to drinking, it is becoming clear that the alcohol industry is engaged in a battle for brand loyalty and female downtime. Mike’s Hard Lemonade, mango coolers, berry-flavored vodkas such as Skinnygirl Vodka and wines with names such as Cupcake, Mommy’s Time Out, MommyJuice, and Girls’ Night Out all clearly target a women and alcohol consumption.

Katherine Keyes, an assistant professor at Columbia University reviewed 31 international studies on gender differences and birth-cohort in mortality and alcohol consumption. The conclusion was that women born after World War II were far more likely to develop alcohol-related disorders and binge drink than their older counterparts were.

Because of a limited male demographic, companies have been targeting the women and alcohol demographic with very sweet, yet highly alcoholic beverages. In that regard, it is not unlike the strategies and marketing seen in the 1980s where tobacco companies were actively targeting women. However, aside from educating people on the negative side effects and urging moderation, there is not much to be done. Nevertheless, it is becoming clear that the “girls are catching up with the boys“, which means that the effects of the future population of female heavy drinkers will not be pretty.

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