Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?

Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?


When it comes to the many negative effects of alcohol use, women seem to be more susceptible than males. Women who consume the same amount of alcohol as males do so at higher blood alcohol concentrations and with more impairment. According to research, women are more vulnerable than men to organ damage brought on by drinking as well as trauma from road accidents and interpersonal violence. This Alcohol Alert addresses various characteristics that may put women at risk for alcohol addiction and looks at how alcohol affects men and women differently.

The frequency of women drinking

According to household surveys, men in the United States are more likely than women to drink alcohol. In a survey, 56 percent of males and 34 percent of women said they had at least 12 standard drinks in the preceding year. In the study of drinkers, 10% of women and 22% of men reported an average of two or more drinks per day. Additionally, men are more likely than women to develop alcohol dependence.

Women who are divorced or separated and who are between the ages of 26 and 34 drink the most frequently. Women between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks on each occasion on five or more days in the previous month. White women drink more frequently than other racial groups; however black women are more prone to drink heavily.


Metabolism of Absorption of Alcohol is different in women than in men. Women often have less body water than men of equal weight, which causes women to have higher blood alcohol concentrations after consuming the same amount of alcohol. Further, women are found to flush out alcohol from the blood more quickly than men. Given that the liver is where alcohol is processed almost exclusively, women's bigger liver volume per unit of lean body mass may account for this observation.

Effects of Alcohol Consumption

According to research, women are more likely than men to have organ damage, trauma, and interpersonal and legal issues as a result of drinking.

Harm to Liver

Women have alcohol-induced liver damage at a slower rate and with less alcohol use than males. Women also have a higher risk than men of contracting alcoholic hepatitis and passing away from cirrhosis. According to studies on animals, the female reproductive hormone estrogen may have physiological consequences that raise women's risk for liver injury.

Brain Injury

According to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain, women may be more prone than men to developing alcohol-related brain damage. Researchers used MRI to discover that alcoholic women had significantly smaller brain volumes than non-alcoholic women and alcoholic males in a region of the brain responsible for coordinating several different brain activities. Even after accounting for the head size of the measures, these discrepancies were still substantial. In contrast, alcoholic and nonalcoholic men showed a substantial difference in metabolic energy usage in particular brain regions, but alcoholic and nonalcoholic women showed no such difference. These findings do not support the notion that women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol on the brain. However, compared to the study's male alcoholics, female alcoholics reported less extreme alcohol usage.

Heart illness

Alcohol Alert No. 45, "Alcohol and Coronary Heart Disease," discusses how men and women who drink one or two alcoholic drinks per day had a lower death rate from coronary heart disease (such as heart attacks) than heavier drinkers and abstainers. Research indicates that despite women's higher rates of heavy drinking, men and women experience equivalent rates of alcohol-related cardiac muscle damage (also known as cardiomyopathy).

Despite women's 60 percent lower lifetime alcohol usage, research shows equal risk of alcohol-associated cardiac muscle illness (also known as cardiomyopathy) for both sexes among heavier drinkers.

Ovarian cancer

Although one recent study indicated no increased risk of breast cancer related to intake of up to one drink per day, the maximum drinking amount reported by the majority of women, many studies indicate that moderate to heavy alcohol consumption raises the risk for breast cancer.


Victimization via violence

In a poll of female college students, it was discovered that there was a strong correlation between the amount of alcohol the respondents claimed to consume each week and their experiences of sexual assault. Another study discovered that female high school students who had consumed alcohol in the previous year were more likely to experience relationship violence (such as pushing, kicking, or punching) than non-drinking peers.

It has been discovered that first-year aggressiveness among newlyweds is predicted by a history of excessive premarital drinking by both partners. Regardless of the husbands' drinking levels, problem drinking by wives has been connected in certain studies to husband-to-wife hostility.

Traffic collisions

Women have a higher relative risk of driving fatalities than males, even though they are less likely than men to drive after drinking and to be involved in fatal alcohol-related accidents. There may be gender disparities in how alcohol impacts how well people do driving activities, according to laboratory investigations of how it affects responding to visual cues and other tasks.

Because they tend to take fewer risks than males do, women may have lower rates of drinking and driving. Additionally, women are less likely to think that drinking and driving is appropriate to conduct. In a 1990 national household survey, 17 percent of women and 27 percent of men believed that having one or two beers before driving was acceptable. However, the number of female drivers engaged in deadly collisions is rising. Compared to 13 percent in 1986 and 12 percent in 1980, female drivers made up 16 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes caused by alcohol in 1996.

Are Men Less Susceptible than Women to the Effects of Alcohol?

The alcohol research community has started to acknowledge the significance of studying gender differences in how alcohol is used, in the effects of alcohol use, and in the emergence of alcohol dependency or alcohol addiction. This is evidenced by the variety of information included in this Alcohol Alert. Women continue to be more vulnerable than males to some major medical effects of alcohol use, such as liver, brain, and heart damage, even when both genders drink at the same rate. We are aware that there are gender-related differences in metabolism that contribute to some of this risk; however, it is also possible that these differences are also present in brain chemistry, genetic risk factors, or other unidentified variables. The better job we can do to prevent and manage such problems in all groups, the more research can tell us about gender-related features of alcohol-related disorders, not only what they are but why.

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Contributed By:Dr (Prof) R K Suri Clinical Psychologist & Ms. Aditi Bharadwaj