Did you know that, on average, women face increased risks from drinking alcohol? Some of the factors are biological, but many of the reasons for the difficult relationship between women and alcohol are social. Certain pressures can contribute to stress, which can drive women to drink if they lack healthier coping strategies. And while this response is understandable, it is still deeply unsafe for the woman drinking.
Today, we’re looking at alcohol dependence in women and how alcohol affects women in different ways. Whether you’re worried about your own health or the well-being of a female alcoholic in your life, we have important information for you.
The Statistical Relationship Between Women and Alcohol
Alcohol certainly poses certain risks to every individual, regardless of their gender. But for women and alcohol, the relationship often starts very early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32% of high-school-aged girls drink alcohol, compared to 26% of boys of the same age. Sadly, this does not only indicate that more girls are experimenting with alcohol than boys, since the CDC reports that female students binge drink at higher rates than male students.
And these factors are dangerous, because alcohol can have profound effects on how the teenage brain develops.
For example, alcohol can alter the way that teenagers develop the prefrontal cortex in their brains. Since the prefrontal cortex helps weigh risks vs reward, damage to this valuable area can lead to even more drinking as an adult. In this way, female alcoholics are more likely to have a harder time breaking the cycle of addiction due to decisions made in their teenage years.
Given all of that information, it’s hardly surprising that the relationship between women and alcohol often continues into adulthood. Among American women, 13% reported binge drinking, and most of them engaged in this unsafe drinking behavior four to five times per month. While it may seem harmless, binge drinking is a known form of alcohol abuse. This means that while it is not the same thing as alcohol addiction, it is a dangerous behavior that can drastically increase an individual’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
All of these factors contribute to women facing diseases and health issues caused by alcohol. So it’s not surprising that women are more likely than men to develop alcohol-related liver diseases. That’s part of the reason why alcohol has been linked to, on average, more than 27,000 deaths of women and girls each year. But this number also reflects increased danger from heart damage, brain damage, and impaired risk-assessment that comes with alcohol use.
We’ve established that the relationship between women and alcohol is often an unhealthy one, but why is that? As with any case of addiction, there is no single answer. But part of the responsibility could lie in the pressures and stresses that women face.
Negative Effects of Stress on Health
Without proper coping strategies, many people turn to alcohol as a means to cope with untreated mental illness symptoms. The individual might start drinking to manage feelings of anxiety, to alleviate sadness, etc. And while this sometimes works in the short term, this often leads to more problems over time.
This is because addiction and mental illness are co-occurring disorders. This means that where one of these issues is present, there is an increased risk of developing the other. And when both of these issues interact, they worsen each other and create more severe symptoms for the individual. And since women have a higher risk of developing a mental health issue, they are also at increased risk of developing co-occurring disorders.
But why are women so susceptible to mental health conditions?
Many women face pressures to “have it all,” meaning a successful career, a family with children, and a thriving social life. This can lead to a lot of stress, and over time, expose an individual to negative effects of stress on the body and mind, like depression and anxiety. Without proper treatment, these issues can lead to unhealthy drinking and, eventually, alcohol addiction.
But not every factor in the relationship between women and alcohol is social. While the way that someone handles alcohol can vary wildly from person to person, on average, women process alcohol differently from men in a few key ways.
Women and Processing Alcohol
On average, women who drink alcohol face an increased risk of developing alcohol-related health disorders. And a large part of that is due to the way that women’s bodies process alcohol.
For example, on average, women weigh less than men, which means that their tolerance for alcohol is often lower. They also have less water stored in their bodies, which can lead to a higher blood alcohol level in women than men, even when the same number of drinks are taken. And unfortunately, a higher blood alcohol level means a higher risk for negative health side effects.
That said, more men than women die from alcohol-related health issues. But women have their own concerns with alcohol. Because of their higher blood alcohol levels, it takes less time spent abusing alcohol for women to develop long-term health issues due to their drinking. For example, if a man and woman drink the same amount, the woman will be more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis, which is a life-threatening liver diseases that can develop into cirrhosis over time.
As you can see, there are a variety of reasons why women face increased risk of developing alcohol-related health conditions. And to break this vicious cycle, our Louisiana alcohol addiction treatment center offers treatment that addresses both alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions.
Finding Help for Women Living with Alcohol Dependence
At Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital, we are proud to provide quality addiction treatment to our local community. With our dual diagnosis program, women living with alcohol dependence can get help and learn invaluable coping strategies that will significantly improve their quality of life.
Would you like to learn more about how we help people recover from alcohol addiction and address mental health symptoms? Call our friendly admissions specialists at 225-300-8470 or ask your questions online. Alcohol dependence is hard to face alone, but all you have to do is ask for help!