Women and Alcohol Addiction

We work with women who are often “cross addicted” to alcohol as well as having an eating disorder. It is prevalent enough to warrant special attention in this blog entry.

Government estimates state that about 5.3 million women in the U.S. drink in a way that threatens their safety, health and well-being.  Fewer women than men are heavy drinkers, but female alcoholics die from their disorder at 50 to 100 percent higher rate.  This includes deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, stroke, heart attack, accidents and suicide.

Women’s issues related to alcohol are quite a bit different from men’s.  Women tend to have different drinking patterns than men, including hiding their drinking from family and friends.  In addition, women’s bodies react differently to alcohol.  Because women in general weigh less than men do, they can begin to have alcohol abuse problems at lower drinking levels.  Another factor is that men have more water in their bodies, meaning alcohol is dispersed more quickly.  Other differences in body composition between the sexes, such as hormones, also contribute to women experiencing higher blood alcohol concentrations compared to men.

Women’s Health Risks from Alcohol

The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has identified alcohol as an important women’s health issue.  Women who are heavy drinkers are more susceptible to liver damage and heart disease than men who drink comparable amounts.  There is an increased risk of developing breast cancer for women who consume as little as one alcohol drink per day.  Studies also suggest that women are more susceptible to alcohol-related brain damage than men are.

For women of child-bearing age, heavy drinking has been found in some cases to disrupt the normal menstrual cycle, contributing to infertility.  Drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy puts the fetus at risk of birth defects and learning disorders.  It also increases the risk of premature birth and miscarriage.
What Amount of Alcohol is Safe for Women Drinkers?

Due to the differences between men and women in terms of the consequences of alcohol abuse, government agencies such as the NAAA have created separate guidelines for women’s consumption of alcohol.  For women, moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day, as compared to two drinks per day for men.  In addition to causing the health problems listed above, drinking in excess of this amount increases the risk of automobile crashes, suicide and of being victimized by violence.

Treatment for Women’s Alcohol Problems

The most effective alcohol treatment for a woman depends on the severity of her problem.  Women who are not yet addicted may be able to curtail their drinking with counseling.  Those who have developed alcohol dependence or addiction should seek professional help.  Heavy drinkers who abstain from alcohol may undergo extreme withdrawal symptoms.  Detoxification should take place under a doctor’s supervision, followed by therapy that focuses on a woman’s personal issues and helps her begin a new life of sobriety.