Alcohol use disorders present very differently in men and women. Not only are the rates of alcohol use in women different than in men, but women are often at higher risk of physical and mental health consequences. Getting help for an alcohol use disorder is the best way to ensure you don’t experience these consequences. Arizona rehab centers like Desert Cove Recovery may be able to help.
Gender Differences in Alcohol Use Rates
Alcohol use in women is generally lower than in men, though more women start drinking at a younger age. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:1
- 7% of men over the age of 18 used alcohol in the last year
- 9% of women over the age of 18 used alcohol in the last year
- 7% of men between the ages of 12 and 17 used alcohol in the last year
- 5% of women between the ages of 12 and 17 used alcohol in the last year
In general, women are less likely to engage in heavy drinking or binge drinking than men. However, substantial evidence shows that the harms of excessive alcohol use are often more pronounced for women. This makes women with alcohol use disorders particularly vulnerable to deleterious physical and mental health effects.
Physical Effects of Alcohol Use in Women
Physical health risks for alcohol use in women are higher than for men. This is due, in part, to differences in biological body structure and chemistry. Compared to men, women absorb more alcohol when drinking the same amount, take longer to metabolize alcohol fully, and have higher blood alcohol concentrations for the same number of drinks.2
Two factors primarily cause these increased physical risks: first, women tend to weigh less than men, making a single drink more potent. Second, women carry less water weight pound for pound than men do. When alcohol is consumed, it primarily resides in body water, which means that the woman will have a higher blood alcohol concentration in a man and woman of similar weight.
This can lead to several damaging health effects, including:2
Increased Risk of Liver Disease
Due to the elevated rates of blood alcohol concentration in women, the liver needs to work overtime to eliminate alcohol from the body. Alcohol is incredibly taxing on the liver, and sustained alcohol use can lead to alcoholic fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and, ultimately, cirrhosis. While the liver has a great capacity for regeneration, scarring of the liver from alcohol use typically cannot recover.
Recent studies have shown that any amount of alcohol consumption is more taxing on the liver for women than for men.3 The only way to prevent liver damage from occurring is to stop drinking.
Damage to the Heart
In addition to harming the liver, heavy alcohol use in women can lead to serious damage to the heart. Excessive alcohol use can lead to heart failure, stroke, or high blood pressure, and women are at higher risk than men when consuming the same quantity of alcohol.4
Increased Cancer Risk
Alcohol is a known carcinogen and is thought to be responsible for 6% of all cancer diagnoses, and 4% of all cancer-related deaths in the United States.5 Alcohol can lead to cancers of the:
For women, breast cancer is of particular concern with alcohol use. Even small amounts of alcohol use are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Accelerated Rates of Cognitive Decline
When compared to men, women with alcohol use disorders were found to experience greater degrees of brain damage and cognitive decline.6 Specifically, women were more susceptible to overall brain shrinkage and reduced size of the hippocampi.
Different Standards for Drinking
As a result of these differences, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has set different standards for moderate drinking, binge drinking, and heavy drinking for men and women.7 For men:
- Two drinks or less a day is considered moderate drinking
- More than four drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week are considered heavy drinking
- Five or more drinks in 2 hours are considered binge drinking
In contrast, the rates for women are:
- One drink or less per day is considered moderate drinking
- More than three drinks on any day or seven drinks per week are considered heavy drinking
- More than four drinks in 2 hours are considered binge drinking
These different standards of alcohol consumption are intended to reflect how even if women drink less than men, their risk for developing alcohol-related harms is much higher.
How Addiction Presents Differently in Women
Despite the differences in how alcohol affects men and women, women are still less likely to develop substance use disorders. That said, research shows that women who engage in risky drinking behavior are quicker to transition to addiction than men, are more likely to experience co-occurring mental health disorders, and develop health-related problems faster.8
In sum, women with alcohol use disorders typically have greater problem severity, both in health consequences and severity of their alcohol use disorder. As such, it is essential that women with alcohol use disorder get the help they need to recover, which is exactly what our Arizona rehab centers are built to provide.
Getting Help from Arizona Rehab Centers for Women
At Desert Cove Recovery, our Arizona rehab centers were built from the ground up to ensure that women suffering from alcohol use disorders get the tools they need to achieve recovery. From detox referrals to specialized medical facilities to intensive, evidence-based treatment methods and holistic healthcare, our program was designed to ensure that anyone struggling with addiction gets the help they need to achieve abstinence.
Reach out to the team at Desert Cove Recovery to learn more about our Arizona rehab centers and how they can help. From the moment you call, we’ll be there to support you in every step of your recovery journey.
Sources: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35323/NSDUHDetailedTabs2020v25/NSDUHDetailedTabs2020v25/NSDUHDetTabsSect2pe2020.htm  https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-health.htm  https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/volume/40/2/alcohol-and-liver-function-women  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/alcohol-and-heart-health-separating-fact-from-fiction  https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html  https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/181-185.htm  https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking  https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/volume/40/2/treatment-interventions-women-alcohol-use-disorder