Alcoholism is not a disease that is prejudiced towards one gender or another but its effects do vary differently for women and men. Women struggling with alcohol abuse may find that due to their body structure and chemistry, they absorb more alcohol when drinking and take longer to metabolize it. When the amount of alcohol ingested is the same as their male counterparts, women will have a higher blood alcohol level and feel the effects more immediately. This, coupled with the effects of alcohol lasting longer in women can lead to increased rates of long-term negative health effects. Let's take a look at the statistics around alcoholism in women and how to combat them.
Alcohol & Women: The Data
When studying data from the last two decades, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that women’s alcohol related mortality rates have increased to 14.7%. For men, that rate was 12.5%. Along with the increasing mortality rate, the National Institute of on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 12.4 million women aged 18 and older suffered from alcohol use disorder.
Women Drinking Too Much
Women have been steadily closing the gender gap in alcohol consumption over the last few decades. For the first time, women in their teens and early twenties are reporting drinking at equal or higher rates than their male peers. As societal and cultural pressures continue to increase, there is a high likelihood that these numbers will continue to rise.
Alcohol & Women’s Health
According to the CDC, alcohol use has increased health risks for women. These include:
- Liver Disease: Cirrhosis and alcohol-related liver diseases pose a higher risk for women than men.
- Cognitive Functioning: The shrinking of the brain and cognitive decline can occur more rapidly for women due to alcohol abuse.
- Heart Issues: Even with lower levels of alcohol consumption and a decreased timeline of abuse, women are at a greater risk of damage to their heart muscle.
- Cancer: Alcohol abuse in women is correlated with a higher risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast cancer.
Why Do Women Struggle With Alcoholism Differently?
There are a number of reasons why alcohol misuse is particularly difficult for women.
Biological Differences: As stated earlier, the physical and biological differences in women make them more susceptible to struggling with alcoholism and alcohol use disorder. Despite drinking, on average, less than males, females can develop full-blown alcoholism in a much shorter time-span.
Social and Cultural Factors: The role of women in society is changing - and for the better. However along with these changes comes an increasing amount of expectations and a responsibility that is ever widening. Alcohol is a reliable coping mechanism that everyone is susceptible to.
Co-Occurring Disorders: According to a 2019 study in The Lancet, 47% of women diagnosed with alcohol use disorder had a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. Having a comorbid diagnosis can make understanding alcoholism into a chicken-or-the-egg problem and complicate finding appropriate treatment.
How to Get Help for Alcoholism
If you are struggling with alcoholism, or know someone who is, you don’t have to face it alone. These are the steps to take to get help.
Reach Out: Combating alcoholism is rarely something that is done in isolation. Alcoholics need the support of friends, family and loved ones as well as the advice and supervision of professionals.
Seek Treatment: Gender specific treatment programs can provide a safe, supportive, and knowledgeable space to learn more about your alcohol use and how to recover. Integrating oneself into a female driven community of others who share in your struggle can provide you with a support community and let you know you are not alone.
Support Groups: Continuing recovery within a community of other women alcoholics adds another layer of support and accountability. Early recovery is not easy and the more people and resources you have around you, the better.
Holistic Approaches: Alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, surfing, swimming, and art can provide a different approach to recovery and get you out of your comfort zone. Holistic approaches are a great way to examine recovery from a different perspective.
At the end of the day, alcoholism is alcoholism – no matter the gender of the person afflicted. While alcoholism does affect women differently than men, everyone who is struggling needs the support and accountability of a treatment program and medical professionals. If you or someone you know is in need of help with their alcohol use, reach out to Momentum Recovery to learn about The Cove, a young adult treatment program designed specifically for women.