Alcohol: Worse for Women

All people are created equal, except when it comes to alcohol tolerance. Women become intoxicated quicker than men and are at greater risk of disease and injury due to alcohol consumption. Women coping with alcoholism report greater problems with both physical and social functioning, more bodily pain, and poorer physical and mental health than men, according to data Grazier and co-author Kathleen Bucholz at Washington University analyzed in a three-year, $2 million study funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. A recent study published in the journal Addiction cited two main reasons for this. The first is an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that works at processing alcohol once it’s in your stomach. Because women don’t have as much of this enzyme as men, more alcohol is allowed to pass into their bloodstream. The second factor centers on the amount of water in the body, which works to dilute the alcohol once it enters. In most cases, women are smaller with bodies more fatty tissue, which doesn’t have as much water as muscle. Since men’s bodies tend to be more muscular than women’s, men’s bodies also tend to have more water to dilute alcohol. Even more alarming, is that even if a man and women weigh the same, they get intoxicated at different rates.

Scientists have suspected for some time that men might be more resilient to booze than women. The German research gives visible evidence of this. The University of Heidelberg team published their findings in Alcoholism. CT pictures of the brains of more than 150 volunteers revealed how women come to more harm and quicker than men when they drink heavily. Women who were heavy drinkers lost the same amount of brain volume as the drinking men, but over a much shorter period of alcohol dependence. Lead author Professor Karl Mann said although men generally drink more alcohol, women probably develop alcohol dependence and adverse consequences more readily.

The following are some of the areas in which women experience more effects than men who drink alcohol at the same rate as women:

Liver Damage — Compared with men, women develop alcohol-induced liver disease over a shorter period of time and after consuming less alcohol. Women are also more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis and to die from cirrhosis.

Brain Damage — Women may be more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage. Using MRI, researchers found that a brain region involved in coordinating multiple brain functions was significantly smaller among alcoholic women compared with both nonalcoholic women and alcoholic men.

Heart Disease — Among heavier drinkers, research shows similar rates of alcohol-associated heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) for both men and women, despite women’s 60 percent lower lifetime alcohol use.

Breast Cancer — Many studies report that moderate to heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk for breast cancer, although one recent study found no increased breast cancer risk associated with consumption of up to one drink per day, the maximum drinking level reported by most women.

Traffic Crashes — Although women are less likely than men to drive after drinking and to be involved in fatal alcohol-related crashes, women have a higher relative risk of driver fatality than men at similar blood alcohol concentrations. Laboratory studies of the effects of alcohol on responding to visual cues and other tasks suggest that there may be gender differences in how alcohol affects the performance of driving tasks.

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