Men drink more than women, so alcohol abuse is a man’s problem. Right?
Well, if you are talking about men and women born around 1900, you would be right. According to the Huffington Post, “Men born between 1891 and 1910 were three times more likely to have an alcohol use problem compared to women born at the same time.” That perception has survived the last 100 years.
But that’s not the case anymore. When it comes to binge drinking and alcoholism, women are, sadly, closing the gap….especially young women. Women born between 1991 and 2000 drink nearly as much as men. Today, males drink only 10% more than women. An alarming trend among women is the number that engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 4 or more alcoholic beverages in quick succession. This type of drinking among women jumped 30% between 1979 and 2006. Women are drinking dangerous quantities as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Between 1999 and 2008, the number of young women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52%. The rate for young men, though higher, rose just 9%.”
What's the big deal?
As women continually break down barriers in society, one would think these statistics shouldn’t be cause for alarm. But they would be wrong. The plain fact is that women metabolize liquor differently. According to the NIAAA, women have more fat and less water in their bodies. Women also lack some of the enzyme levels that men have to break down alcohol. Therefore, women are affected by alcohol more quickly. The effects of alcohol linger in the woman’s body longer as well. Because of this, even moderate drinking among women can cause a variety of health risks. A lower amount of body water and different enzyme makeup means alcohol-related problems occur at lower drinking levels in women.
Women who drink are more likely than men to develop the health risks of alcoholism, and much more quickly.
- Liver damage: Women are more likely to develop liver diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. Some believe estrogen accelerates this process.
- Brain damage: Certain regions of the female brain have been shown to shrink after prolonged alcohol abuse. Alcohol-induced brain damage occurs far less in men.
- Heart disease: Women are just as likely as men to get heart disease, even though they consume only 60% as much liquor in their lifetimes.
- Breast cancer: Heavy drinking among women drastically increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Violent injury: Alcoholic women are more likely to be physically assaulted than alcoholic men. Also, among heavy drinkers, a higher proportion of women are involved in fatal car crashes than men.
- Death: A recent study in Germany has found that alcoholic fatality is twice as likely among women.
Adding to the problem, the healthcare industry hasn’t yet caught up to the trend. The early symptoms of liver damage and heart disease can be overlooked by professionals because they don’t usually suspect heavy drinking among women.
So, what options are available for a woman with a drinking problem? Certainly the same that are available to men, but there are perceived obstacles there as well. Women are less likely to reach out for help for a number of reasons. A lack of social support and the stigma of alcoholism in women can make many keep their drinking a secret. Childcare and obligations at work and home make treatment at a facility seem impossible. Fortunately, there are ways around these obstacles. Time taken away from the normal schedule for treatment and healing should be encouraged in the family. The lives of these women and their families hang in the balance.
Many would agree that these facts are chilling. We have wrongly assumed that men are far more likely to become alcoholics when the truth is quite the contrary. Women are drinking more than ever and suffering the negative health effects of alcohol abuse far more quickly. The stigma of alcoholism is keeping women from asking for help and getting the treatment they need and the number of alcoholic women continues to grow. 5.3 million American women drink in quantities that threaten their health and safety. Four million of them are dependent on alcohol and cannot quit. Yes, times have definitely changed. Likewise, society needs to make changes in our attitudes and healthcare protocol to save the lives of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters.