Alcohol abuse is a serious issue that can affect people of any gender, class, race and circumstance. It is also possible for anyone to slide from problem drinking into full-blown alcohol addiction but there are some factors and social trends that affect the big picture.

Historically, men have drunk more than women. That is still the case in the UK according to the leading charity Alcohol Change UK, but the gap has narrowed considerably over the past 50 years. Young women in particular tend to be drinking more and in many cases are binge drinking just as much as young men. What we drink has also changed, with the majority of alcohol consumed in the UK changing from beer drunk in pubs to wine drinking in the home.


How Alcohol Affects Women

There are certain effects of alcohol that are universal. Anyone will get intoxicated if they drink too much alcohol, although it’s true that some people may be able to ‘hold their drink’ better than others. In some cases, this may be due to increased tolerance through prolonged or heavy usage, which is never a good thing. An increased tolerance can be associated with growing alcohol dependence that may end in the requirement for treatments such as alcohol detox and rehab.

In general terms, alcohol affects women differently from men. It used to be the case that women who drink were advised to consume fewer units than men to keep health risks to a minimum. The official guidance from the UK’s Chief Medical Officer now is 14 units or less per week for any adult but alcohol consumption can still affect women differently.

According to Drinkaware, a female drinker will almost always have a higher blood alcohol level than a man who has drunk the same amount. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that women tend to weigh less than men. Another is that women will generally have a higher proportion of body fat than men. Alcohol is stored in body water rather than fat and so can be more concentrated in women.


Increased Risks for Female Drinkers

Drinking alcohol to excess is related to a large number of illnesses and health conditions that can affect both men and women – including but certainly not limited to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.

Addiction and substance misuse can also have a serious effect on your mental health. Heavy consumption or binge drinking can lead to short-term impacts such as the increased risk of accidents, unsafe sex and poor decision-making, as well as being linked to criminal behaviour and violence, including domestic violence.

Another serious long-term risk is that chronic drinking can increase the risk of various kinds of cancer, including cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum. A 2014 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that around a fifth (21%) of all alcohol-related deaths were due to cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and Cancer Research UK reports that 8% of breast cancer cases in the UK are caused by alcohol consumption. Even drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer. Oxford University’s Million Women Study actually looked at 1.3 million women in developed countries. It estimated that each additional alcoholic drink consumed daily was associated with 11 additional breast cancers per 1,000 women. It was also associated with an additional 1 per 1,000 women for cancers of the oral cavity pharynx and rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the oesophagus, larynx and liver. This gave a total excess of about 15 cancers per 1000 women up to age 75.


Young Women and Alcohol Abuse

As already mentioned, women have been closing the gender divide in alcohol consumption for decades and many young women, in particular, are drinking as much as their male counterparts. US data from 2019 suggested that female drinkers in their teens and early 20s were actually drinking more. Dawn Sugarman, a research psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, told NPR that women often don’t recognise alcohol disorders in their own drinking, or seek treatment such as alcohol rehab. Aaron White, a senior scientific adviser at the USA’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, added that many women who were drinking appeared to be drinking ‘to cope’.


Pregnancy and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can also be very harmful if you are pregnant or trying for a baby. For a start, drinking too much can affect fertility for both men and women, so it’s always best to at least cut down and preferably avoid drinking altogether if you are actively trying for a baby. If you are pregnant, alcohol can pass from your blood to the developing baby through the placenta, potentially causing a range of developmental problems.

According to the NHS drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months, can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth and the chance of your baby having low weight at birth. Drinking heavily in pregnancy can also lead to a serious condition known as foetal alcohol syndrome.


Seeking Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you believe you may have an alcohol problem, it always pays to seek help as soon as possible. This can take different forms, from support groups to outpatient addiction treatment. The most effective way to deal with a serious addiction problem, however, is almost always a full rehabilitation treatment plan.

At residential rehab, you can focus on recovery away from your usual triggers and temptations, with a tailored treatment plan delivered by trained and experienced professionals. Our comfortable facilities provide the perfect setting for the delivery of this evidence-based treatment programme and a tailored aftercare programme can help with relapse prevention.

Contact us today if you think you might need help and we can get the admissions process rolling.



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