How Alcohol Affects Women Differently

Heavy drinking always takes a toll, but it affects women much differently than men, often in unexpected ways.

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), women are just as likely as men to become addicted to alcohol and they become addicted faster, in spite of the fact that men have a higher rate of alcohol abuse and binge drinking and are more likely to end up in emergency rooms for alcohol-related reasons.

Alcoholic women have a higher risk of developing long-term health problems. Even though they drink less than men, women are more likely to die from alcohol-related heart attacks, liver disease, accidents and suicides, says NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

Many of the differences in the ways in which alcohol affects men and women are purely physical. Women tend to be smaller and have less body mass and more fatty tissue than men. Pound for pound, female bodies contain less water to diffuse alcohol, so women become intoxicated much faster.

Women and Stigma

Stigma is a significant barrier to treatment for alcohol-addicted women. While most men can maintain jobs and relatively normal lives for many years, the stigma is greater for women, who tend to experience problems such as job loss or child service intervention much sooner.

Because stigma is still greater for women, many feel tremendous guilt and shame. Many alcoholic women have experienced some form of trauma, and they are more likely than men to have a family history of alcoholism, substance abuse and dysfunction. Women frequently suffer from co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks or disordered eating.

Women often lack a strong support system of family and friends than their male counterparts, and they are more likely to be left by a husband or partner when they decide to enter drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. Many hesitate to seek treatment for fear of losing the respect and love of their children or alienating their friends.

Seeking Treatment

Relationships are critical to most women, which may explain why women are less likely to seek treatment than male alcoholics, especially if child custody issues are involved. Skilled treatment providers recognize the importance of interpersonal relationships and the caregiver roles that most women sustain throughout their lives.

The good news is that once in treatment, women are at least as likely as men to reach successful completion and are more likely to seek help if they relapse.

Women who are addicted or dependent on alcohol should seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab that recognizes and acknowledges the unique needs of women. Confrontation and tough love don’t usually work well with women, who respond to a warm, supportive environment that builds a sense of trust and confidence.

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