When A.A. first started, men filled the rooms suggesting that women didn’t struggle with alcohol. Over the years, however, the gap between men and women drinkers has narrowed. As a result, we have seen equality between the sexes with regards to alcohol use disorder (AUD). At the same time, science has taught us that the effects of alcohol on women in terms of their health have not. In fact, alcohol has a heavier physical impact on women based on their size, brain function, and body chemistry.
Women Drink More Than Ever
The number of women drinkers has increased over the years. Since Covid19, however, heavy drinking by women is up 41% compared to before the pandemic reports a RAND Corporation study. In fact, two in three women say they drink more since Covid19 started.
Effects of Alcohol on Women Are Different Than Men
On average, women die from alcoholism 1.5 to 2 times more than men. Let’s face it, women’s bodies are different. Of course, there is the obvious. On average, men have bigger bodies than women. Not so obvious is the fact that women have different body chemistry. Here’s how.
A woman’s body carries less water and more fat than a man’s body. As a result, alcohol doesn’t get pushed through their system as quickly as men. Rather we hold it in our body fat longer and at a more concentrated level. Over time, women develop complications sooner than men because the toxins remain in the body longer.
According to, Dr. George F. Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the differences in women’s and men’s brains also change the effects of alcohol on women.
Not only do women get intoxicated faster because of the alcohol concentration, they think about alcohol differently. For example, in my last article, I mentioned that I had never heard a man say, “I’m stressed out. I need a drink.” According to Koob, males have positive motivations to drink that include impulsive and sensation-seeking behaviors (let’s do something crazy). Females, on the other hand, drink because of negative motivators (I want relief from stress).
Physical Effects of Alcohol on Women
According to WebMD.com, alcohol disrupts our sleep patterns leading to dark circles under the eyes. It also causes us to flush which could promote Rosacea flare-ups and hives for people prone to an alcohol allergy. These, however, present minor problems compared to the long-term complications of heavy drinking.
First, heavy drinking can cause cellulitis, a skin infection to the lower legs. It can also trigger psoriasis and intensify the breakout. An obvious concern for most women though is aging. Because alcohol acts as a diuretic, it flushes out excess water and dehydrates the skin causing us to wrinkle more.
Years ago ads suggested that drinking red wine in moderation helps heart health. In terms of moderate drinking, this may be true. Many people, however, do not practice moderate drinking. For women, heavy drinking leads to heart muscle disease faster than for men. It can increase blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. Furthermore, the added calories in alcohol can also cause obesity which puts excess strain on the heart.
The liver breaks down and filters alcohol giving the liver the strongest hit in the body’s processing system. In fact, “the liver processes over 90% of consumed alcohol.” After a while, heavy alcohol use damages the liver’s cells causing cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis. It may even lead to liver cancer. For women, this happens faster and with less alcohol use, potentially because of the lower water content in women’s bodies.
Additionally, according to NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), “Animal research suggests that women’s increased risk for liver damage may be linked to physiological effects of the female reproductive hormone estrogen.”
We all know that fuzzy giddy feeling we get when we drink. In fact, it can feel quite enjoyable at times. While that feeling might be fun, long-term alcohol abuse has damaging effects on the brain. It “literally shrinks the region of the brain connected with learning and memory,” sites webmd.com. It also causes a condition known as wet brain. Wet brain can to confusion, problems with muscle coordination, vision problems, and even psychosis.
Another study showed that there was a difference in the size of the frontal cortex. It became thicker in females who binge drink than in males. The study reports that “Females sustain larger cognitive deficits and greater damage in the hippocampus, frontal lobes, and other areas following repeated alcohol exposure than males.”
Emotional Effects of Alcohol on Women
Other effects of alcohol on women to the brain include an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Even though initially, consuming alcohol brings on a sense of joy, it is in fact, a depressant. Initially, alcohol gives a dopamine (the happy hormone) blast. To balance the blast and protect you, your brain triggers GABA receptors and increases cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This leads to anxiety and depression. Over time, your brain adapts, and regular dopamine levels decrease leaving you with more cortisol and heavier depression. In some cases, this can reverse, but that may take a while.
Don’t Ignore the Effects of Alcohol on Women
Let’s face it. You may enjoy drinking. I know I did. Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol on women can cause permanent and sometimes fatal damage to our bodies when we drink excessively. It does this at a much greater risk to women than to men.
As we see heavy drinking in women rising, it’s clear that most of us don’t take the facts seriously. We ignore the risks to achieve immediate satisfaction even though it’s killing us.
If you struggle with alcohol addiction, I am here to help. You can book a free call or check out my free course, “Back to Ground Zero.” It will teach you the basics of addiction and clear up many of the misconceptions you may have about what it means to have an alcohol dependency.