Regarding alcohol consumption, many individuals have encountered situations where they drank excessively and ended up embarrassing themselves. Occasional indulgence in drinking may not pose significant concerns, but if it becomes habitual, it signals an underlying problem requiring immediate attention. In the United States, approximately 15 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder, with around one-third being women. This disorder manifests as an obsession with alcohol, driven by emotional dependence.
Alcoholism is a serious issue that, when left untreated, can profoundly affect mental and physical health, as well as relationships, work, and other important aspects of life. Initially, those mildly addicted to alcohol may not encounter significant issues, but without intervention, their condition can worsen. As alcohol dependency progresses, so do the severity of consequences, including challenges in maintaining employment and housing, alongside increasing difficulty in quitting drinking.
Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, resulting in a heightened sense of euphoria and the development of tolerance. Over time, extreme cravings and withdrawal symptoms may emerge, indicating a dependence on alcohol that often arises after years of heavy drinking.
how alcohol consumption affect women’s health
Serving size matters
For women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define moderate alcohol intake per week as consuming seven servings of alcohol or less.
A single serving of alcohol equates to five ounces for wine and just one-and-a-half ounces for hard alcohol, which is considerably less than typical servings found in bars, restaurants, or at home.
Dr. Ashton suggested an experiment using water or wine at home, advising pouring water into a wine glass to match what one might pour for themselves. She explained that what appears to be one drink, such as a glass of rosé, could actually surpass five ounces, possibly even doubling the amount.
Furthermore, she emphasized that the frequency of drinking doesn’t alter the impact, illustrating how a seemingly innocent margarita, made with three ounces of tequila and served in a large glass, could easily amount to 21 servings, constituting heavy alcohol consumption for a woman. Even consuming eight or more drinks qualifies as heavy alcohol consumption for women.
Dr. Ashton shared her practice of participating in Dry January, abstaining from alcohol for the month, which has helped her monitor her alcohol intake throughout the year. She stressed the importance of maintaining a mental tally of alcohol servings per week to stay within the recommended limit of seven servings for women, likening it to managing spending habits or exercise routines.
Drinking alcohol can cause cancer
The Department of Health and Human Services identifies alcohol consumption as a known human carcinogen, meaning it contributes to the formation or development of various cancers, including esophageal, liver, colon, and breast cancer, as noted by Ashton.
Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) indicates that women who consume approximately one alcoholic drink per day face a 5 to 9% higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to non-drinkers. Moreover, this risk escalates with each additional daily drink consumed by a woman.
Read Also: What’s the Healthiest Alcoholic Drink
Alcohol affects women differently than men
According to Ashton, men can consume double the servings of alcohol each week and remain within moderate alcohol intake limits because their bodies metabolize alcohol differently than women.
“Typically, women have smaller body sizes, different body fat distribution, and distinct metabolic rates,” Ashton explained. “Therefore, in general, two drinks for a woman might result in a blood alcohol level equivalent to that of one drink for a man.”
“It’s crucial to address this issue with a gender-specific approach rather than treating men and women alike,” she emphasized.
The health effects of alcohol are worse than a hangover
While women might discuss or jest about the hangovers they experience after excessive alcohol consumption, what often remains unspoken or unknown are the internal effects of alcohol on their bodies.
Dr. Ashton highlights the broad spectrum of health consequences associated with heavy alcohol consumption for women, ranging from neurological effects like brain atrophy and cognitive impairment to physical effects such as weight gain, adverse impacts on the heart and cardiovascular system, heightened risk of alcoholic liver disease and fatty liver, and increased susceptibility to various cancers and accidents due to alcohol intoxication.
Research indicates that women not only metabolize alcohol differently than men but also face more severe health repercussions. They are more prone to alcohol-related heart disease, experience accelerated brain damage from alcohol misuse compared to men, may be more susceptible to alcohol-induced blackouts or memory lapses, and have a higher likelihood of developing alcoholic hepatitis, a potentially fatal condition, when regularly misusing alcohol, as noted by the NIAAA.
Dr. Ashton underscores the importance of recognizing that excessive consumption of nearly anything has the potential to be harmful to health.
Not all women may safely consume alcohol
For women, there are certain periods in their lives when consuming alcohol is medically unsafe, particularly for those under the legal drinking age of 21, pregnant women, and individuals taking medications that may interact adversely with alcohol.
Research, as cited by the CDC, unequivocally demonstrates that any level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can pose harm. Despite this evidence, CDC data reveals that up to one in nine women admit to drinking while pregnant.
Medical professionals strongly advise against alcohol consumption during pregnancy due to the risk of alcohol passing from the mother’s bloodstream through the umbilical cord to the fetus. This exposure can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and an increased likelihood of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can manifest as physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues in children.
Furthermore, drinking during pregnancy heightens the risk of premature or early birth, underscoring the importance of abstaining from alcohol during this critical period.
Alcohol consumption significantly impacts women’s health across various stages of life. From pregnancy to general well-being, the effects of alcohol on women’s bodies can be profound and far-reaching. The risks associated with alcohol use extend beyond immediate consequences like hangovers and intoxication to encompass long-term health outcomes such as increased vulnerability to certain cancers, liver diseases, and cardiovascular complications.
Furthermore, women metabolize alcohol differently than men, heightening their susceptibility to alcohol-related health issues even at lower levels of consumption. It is imperative for women to be aware of the potential dangers of alcohol and to make informed decisions about their drinking habits. Healthcare professionals play a critical role in educating women about the risks associated with alcohol consumption, particularly during pregnancy and other medically sensitive periods. By promoting awareness and encouraging moderation or abstinence, we can help safeguard women’s health and well-being in the face of alcohol-related challenges.
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