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Physical Risks to Women

 

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Women

Women are at greater risk than men for developing alcohol-related problems. Alcohol passes through the digestive tract and is dispersed in the water in the body. The more water available, the more diluted the alcohol. As a rule, men weigh more than women, and, pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. Therefore, a woman's brain and other organs are exposed to more alcohol and to more of the toxic byproducts that result when the body breaks down and eliminates alcohol.1 Women have lower concentrations of a metabolizing enzyme which helps to break alcohol down. As a result, they become inebriated more easily. Monthly hormone fluctuations also affect alcohol metabolism and can make blood alcohol content levels jump faster than in men.2

An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being. A strong case can be made that heavy drinking is more risky for women than men. Drinking over the long term is more likely to damage a woman's health than a man's, even if the woman has been drinking less alcohol or for a shorter length of time than the man.1

Aging also seems to reduce the body's ability to adapt to alcohol. Older adults reach higher blood levels of alcohol even when drinking the same amount as younger people. This is because, with aging, the amount of water in the body is reduced and alcohol becomes more concentrated. But even at the same blood alcohol level, older adults may feel some of the effects of alcohol more strongly than younger people.1 Older women, more than any other group, use medications that can affect mood and thought, such as those for anxiety and depression. These psychoactive medications can interact with alcohol in harmful ways. On the other end of development, adolescent girls who consume even moderate amounts of alcohol may experience disrupted growth and puberty.3

Some specific health problems of alcohol addiction include alcoholic liver disease, brain disease, cancer, and heart disease. Women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation) and to die from cirrhosis. Many people who are addicted to alcohol have some loss of mental function, reduced brain size, and changes in the function of brain cells. Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage. Many studies report that heavy drinking increases the risk of breast cancer and is linked to cancers of the digestive tract and of the head and neck (the risk is especially high in smokers who also drink heavily). In addition, chronic heavy drinking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Among heavy drinkers, men and women have similar rates of alcohol-related heart disease, even though women drink less alcohol over a lifetime than men.1

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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