Alcohol Use Riskier for Women Than Men

Alcohol Risk Women large

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Bacon and eggs. Peanut butter and jelly. Salt and pepper. All are great combinations. Women and alcohol? Not so much.

Women who drink have a higher risk of certain alcohol-related problems compared to men, especially women who are heavy drinkers. Before you mix alcohol with your next night on the town or Netflix binge, you might review your typical weekly alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking could leave you with more than a hangover.

Alcohol Use on the Rise in Women

Research shows that drinking, binge drinking and extreme binge drinking by women are all increasing. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks within two hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

  • 46 percent of adult women report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
  • 12 percent of adult women report binge drinking three times a month, averaging five drinks per binge.
  • And it’s not just younger women contributing to the rise.

A recent study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health suggests the rate of drinking – binge drinking in particular – is rising faster among women ages 60 or older than in males of the same age range.

Experts share concern for these trends since women’s bodies break down alcohol less efficiently than men’s. This means health issues, such as liver damage, may occur sooner in women than in men – and from less alcohol use.

Women who drink have a higher risk of certain alcohol-related problems compared to men, especially women who are heavy drinkers.

Why Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently?

Women’s bodies absorb more alcohol and reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than men who drink the same amount because our bodies take longer to metabolize (break down and remove) alcohol. Some reasons include:  

  • We have less body water than men, pound for pound (alcohol resides mainly in body water).
  • Our body structures and chemistry are different.
  • On average, we weigh less than men.
Keep in mind that some drugs, such as valium or sleeping pills, can also increase alcohol’s effects.

Health Risks for Female Drinkers

Alcohol Risk Women small

Experts warn that alcohol use may put women at greater risk than men for long-term health problems and with greater potential impact, based on recent studies. However, immediate effects from alcohol use and misuse can be serious as well.  

Immediate effects of alcohol: 

  • Cognitive impairment and falls. Falls are especially concerning for older women. 
  • Fetal impact. If you consume alcohol during pregnancy, your fetus may be at higher risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor and fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes intellectual disability and birth defects. The risk for sudden infant death syndrome also increases. 
  • Sexual assault: Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college settings.  
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy. Women who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. 

Long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Heart disease. Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men.
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage. Damage occurs more quickly in women than men, including blackouts.
  • Brain damage in teen girls. Alcohol use can disrupt development of the brain during adolescence.
  • Cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
  • Breast cancer. Risk increases as alcohol use increases.
  • Stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding
  • Liver disease. These include alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and pancreatitis.
  • Infertility. Heavy drinking can disrupt the menstrual cycle.
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Bone loss

Guidelines to Drink and Live By

If you’re concerned about whether your alcohol consumption might be affecting your health and risk for chronic disease, follow these tips and guidelines.

Keep in mind that the rate at which alcohol gets into your system depends on:

  • How much you drink
  • How fast you drink it
  • Concentration of the alcohol
  • Whether or not you have food in your stomach

In the United States, a standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer with about 5 percent alcohol content
  • 5 ounces of wine with about 12 percent alcohol content
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor with about 40 percent alcohol content

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women limit alcohol consumption to no more than three drinks on any single day, and no more than seven drinks per week.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

If you struggle to control alcohol intake, talk with your doctor about sources of professional help near you.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Small Steps: Exercise.
Exercising regularly helps lower your weight, improves your sleep, strengthens your bones and boosts your spirits.