Nirvana Recovery

Women and Alcohol: Risks, Benefits and Why We’re Different

Women and Alcohol Risks Benefits and Why Were Different

While alcohol remains a bigger killer for men, a worrying trend is emerging. Over the past two decades, data from a study shows a steeper rise in mortality among women.

That nightly glass of wine (or two or three) many of us rely on to unwind after a long day is getting a closer look from health experts, especially for women. It turns out that the bottle of Dos Equis or red wine you pour for your heart health might not be doing much good after all. A recent study published in Jama Network confirmed that no portion of alcohol fends against heart ailments.

This research is particularly timely considering the rise in alcohol consumption since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It seems many Americans, including middle-aged women, turned to the bottle to cope with the stress (during the pandemic), leading to a concerning increase in alcohol-related health complications. A study published on April 12, 2024, in the JAMA Health Forum backs this up.

Think about it: between work deadlines, managing finances, caring for kids and aging parents, and maybe even dealing with an empty nest or the realities of aging ourselves – life can feel like a constant balancing act. It’s no wonder a smooth glass of something seems so appealing! The problem is that alcohol has become so ingrained with relaxation that many of us don’t even stop to think about how much we’re drinking.

Even our experts warn of this slippery slope. “One glass can easily turn into two, then three.” “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an alcoholic, but it does mean you’ve upped your intake to a potentially risky level.”

We get it – life throws a lot at us. Sometimes, a drink feels like the only way to take the edge off. But why do women face higher risk?

Why Women Face Higher Risks?

Here’s the thing: women tend to feel the effects of alcohol more intensely than men, even if they drink the same amount of alcohol. This is due to a few key biological differences and reasons.

  • First, women generally weigh less, have less body water, and have more fat than men. Since alcohol gets diluted in water, a higher concentration of alcohol ends up in a woman’s bloodstream. 
  • Second, women’s bodies naturally produce less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down the alcohol in your system. 
  • This all adds up to a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for women after drinking the same amount as a man. This higher BAC translates to a greater risk of experiencing hangovers, blackouts, and other alcohol-related problems.

Indication and Effects Of Drinking Alcohol

As discussed, it’s easy for women to unintentionally fall into a pattern of overindulging in alcohol, especially if they need more to achieve the same relaxing effect. If you’re having a dilemma controlling the portion you consume, it’s a big red flag that states you’re becoming more dependent.

Medically speaking, when you consume more alcohol than recommended guidelines (set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), it means your body is building up a tolerance. This can have significant health consequences, especially for your liver.

Here’s the thing: as your tolerance increases, your liver has to work harder to metabolize the alcohol. Over time, this increased workload can lead the liver to the tipping point, which ultimately:

  • Kills your liver cells.
  • Contracts liver diseases like Hepatitis.

Besides this, women also have an increased risk of:

  • Having an impact on their brain. Studies reveal that excessive consumption of alcohol leads to shrinkage and cognitive decline of the brain.
  • Also, it affects their cardiovascular system, which is the leading cause of mortality among women.
  • We know alcohol isn’t exactly a friend to your health, but for women, it’s particularly linked to augmenting the odds of cancers. This includes mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. On top of that, even moderate alcohol intake can increase the risk of breast cancer.

But there’s more to the story. For premenopausal women, heavy binge drinking can wreak havoc on their reproductive health. It can lead to 

  • Early menopause
  • Amenorrhoea
  • Risk of spontaneous abortions
  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstrual cycle or cycle without ovulation

Last but not the least are bones. Like a well-oiled machine, your body uses hormones (like PTH, Vitamin D, calcitonin) to regulate calcium absorption and keep your bones strong. But chronic drinking throws a wrench into this system. It disrupts these hormones, bone metabolism, and how your body absorbs calcium, which:

  • Restricts the adequate absorption of dietary calcium.
  • Increase calcium excretion.
  • Decrease the levels of Vitamin D binding proteins.
  • Causes PTH deficiency.
  • Limits the activity of bone-forming cells.

And when this happens problems like osteoporosis (thinning of bones) can develop. 

How Can I Dial Back on My Drinking

Finally, now you want to know if your alcohol consumption has transited towards the dark side.

The CDC says even people (including women) who drink regularly or binge 4-5 or go overboard sometimes might not be dependent on alcohol. Seriously? Yes. But that doesn’t mean you approach your alcohol-drinking habit as conscientiously as you give it to your workout regime or your keto diet. 

Let’s understand it with an example. You wouldn’t mindlessly shovel fries all day, so why not give your alcohol intake the same scrutiny? 

Being sober-curious is about asking yourself these key questions.

  • Do I want to have a drink now? 
  • How does drinking affect my mood, health, work, and relationships? 
  • What if I decided not to drink?
  • Am I trying to hide my drinking habits?
  • Is it making my mental or physical health worse?
  • Can I take a break from it? If not, then why?
  • Are my peers, friends, and families concerned regarding my drinking habits? 

Giving honest answers to yourself through these questions can help you better understand your habits and ensure that your choices benefit you.

Set Clear Boundaries

Next what? Saying, “I’m going to stop drinking,” is too vague. It’s better to be clear about what you’re aiming for. For example, you might drink only four days a week at most. On weekends, perhaps limit yourself to no more than two drinks a night, and on weekdays, just one. Setting these specific goals can make you feel more in charge and proud each time you achieve them.

Listen to Your Body's Signals

Here’s a neat trick from our experts: pay close attention to the moment effects when you binge on each drink. You might be surprised! We worked with one of our female clients who discovered that one or two glasses lifted her spirits. But a third one? Not so much. It left her feeling down, angry, and out of it.

Tuning into your body’s messages can be a powerful tool. Knowing how much alcohol makes you feel good (and how much makes you feel not-so-good) can help you stay within healthy limits.

Join Free Communities & Get Guidance

There’s no need to go it alone. Many organizations offer free support to help you understand and manage your drinking habits.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Support Groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-known fellowship program where people come together to share experiences and support each other in overcoming alcohol dependence. SMART Recovery is another option, offering a structured program focused on self-management skills for alcohol misuse.
  • Moderation Management: This free program offers a 30-day period of abstinence followed by ongoing support group meetings and a mutual-help environment to help you develop healthy drinking habits.

These programs provide a safe space to connect with others who understand your struggles, learn valuable coping mechanisms, and stay motivated on your journey.

Professional Help: When You Need More Support

Women often face more challenges, including stigma, in getting the treatment they need. Women are less likely than men to join alcohol treatment programs. There are a few reasons for this:

Childcare: Women with teens need childcare services to go to treatment. They might worry about failing custody of their children if they confess to having an alcohol addiction.

Mental health: Women are more likely than men to have mood, anxiety, and eating disorders that need to be treated along with substance abuse. 

For women, finding a program customized just for them, especially if they’ve experienced trauma, can be more effective. If you suspect you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, talking to your primary care doctor is a good start. However, if you’re looking for more intensive support, our alcohol rehab program can be incredibly effective. At Nirvana Recovery, we offer evidence-based programs like IOP (intensive outpatient program), PHP (partial hospitalization program), and interventions that can make a real difference in your alcohol recovery journey.

These programs help you identify the situations and emotions that trigger your cravings and teach you practical tools and skills to manage them in healthy ways. Remember, cutting back on alcohol is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient, celebrate your victories, and don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. We’ve got this!

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Nirvana Recovery