Everyone, regardless of gender, who drinks alcohol to excess faces potential risks to their health and wellbeing. Long-term or excessive consumption of alcohol can result in damage to and diseases of the heart, liver, pancreas, brain, and others. Alcohol abuse is associated with risks for many types of cancer. It can contribute to or aggravate mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and phobias. For women, there are additional alcohol-related health risks that impact them as well as, potentially, their children. Women who consume large amounts of alcohol increase their risk for breast cancer. Drinking while pregnant creates a high risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Regardless of gender, problematic alcohol use can affect significant relationships, employment or academic performance, and it can compromise our decision making. So, what does gender have to do with it?
Alcohol Abuse: The Differences Between Men and Women
Men are more likely than women to use illegal and recreational drugs, including alcohol, but the gap is closing. Men are more likely to drink socially. Women are more likely to privately self-medicate feelings of depression, stress, grief, and loss. Though the cultural stigma is lifting, it has always been more acceptable for men to drink, even to excess, than women. But as our culture changes, the number of female moderate-to-heavy drinkers is increasing. Nevertheless, women are just as likely as men to develop dependence to a substance, yet less likely to seek professional or even community-based help to overcome a substance use problem. Women face more obstacles to treatment. Social stigma, childcare needs, and split responsibilities between home, work, and childcare can impact the decision to get help. Though both men and women work to provide for the modern family, women carry an unbalanced portion of responsibility for the family and the home than men.
Historically, men drank more than women and problem drinking was seen as a men’s issue. Science has shown that women and men actually metabolize alcohol differently due to body composition. After drinking comparable amounts of alcohol over a similar period of time, a female will actually have higher blood ethanol levels than a man – even double. Drinking alcohol compromises our decision making. In the short run, one night’s binge can result in many dangerous impulsive decisions: driving while under the influence, unprotected sex, harm to current relationships, legal issues, unplanned pregnancy or disease, and others. When intoxicated, women may be more likely to fall victim to sexual assault, violence, or theft.
Alcohol abuse and dependence is challenging, even debilitating, and women and men are both susceptible to its negative effects. Are you struggling with drinking and wondering if alcohol treatment might be right for you? Contact a professional or treatment program that addresses both the symptoms and the underlying emotional and behavioral conditions that can drive substance use.