Women more at risk from effects of alcohol consumption
April marks Alcohol Awareness Month, and women should be aware that the effects of drinking alcohol can vary across genders. Most women know that alcohol consumption is risky during pregnancy, but there are several other risk factors women are more prone to if they drink often or in large quantities. Binge drinking contributes to the deaths of more than 11,500 women in the U.S. annually – that’s about 32 deaths each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC warns that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink while pregnant. Women who consume alcohol while pregnant increase their baby’s risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that can cause physical and intellectual disabilities as well as problems with behavior and learning.
Women tend to absorb more alcohol than men when they drink equal amounts, taking longer to break it down. Differences in body composition and chemistry account for these variances between genders. When drinking the same amounts, women even have higher levels of alcohol in their blood than men. This means the effects of impairment occur more quickly and last longer for most women. Studies show women who take birth control pills experience greater alcohol impairment than those who do not. Use of birth control pills slows the rate alcohol leaves the body. Women who binge drink also increase their risk for sexual assault and acquiring HIV and other STDs through risky behaviors.
Over time, women who drink in excess are more vulnerable than men to suffer long-term effects of alcohol abuse. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks per occasion for women and five or more for men. Long-term alcohol consumption increases women’s risk for breast cancer and cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon. Alcohol-related liver diseases and cirrhosis are more common for women than men. Studies have shown that women who binge drink are also at increased risk for heart problems. Alcohol abuse can cause a lot of damage to the heart, boosting chances of high blood pressure, risk for heart attack and stroke.
If you or someone you know exhibits signs of alcohol abuse, contact a health care professional for an evaluation. Screening and behavioral counseling are proven to decrease alcohol misuse and medical professionals can recommend programs in the community that offer even more resources.