Gender and Alcohol

Alcohol is a problem that all people face regardless of gender, age, employment or marital status. Women are particularly at risk of the negative aspects of alcohol, which can include an increased risk of alcohol-related crimes or abuse. Women also face unique challenges regarding their health and well being when they drink alcohol. Serious health concerns such as depression, cancer, and other health risks are faced by women earlier than men.

Women are increasingly at risk of becoming dependent on alcohol. In the UK, 29 out of every 1000 women are dependent on alcohol. This figure is mirrored across the world, including the the USA and Australia. It is estimated that one-third of alcoholics in the United States are women. However, statistically, women are less likely to involve themselves in rehabilitation programs or seek treatment for their alcoholism.

Reasons Women Drink

There are a number of reasons that women may drink alcohol. These reasons can include stress management, to self-medicate, and to feel more in control. Some women use alcohol as a tool to manage their stress which they face from many angles of their lives. They often feel they have to manage a career, a relationship, children, family commitments and the pressures of being beautiful to be successful. But using alcohol to break away from these pressures does little to resolve them and can, in fact, make them a lot worse. Using alcohol to self-medicate is not unique to women. Many people use alcohol as a medicine to treat anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. But rather than treating these problems, alcohol can magnify the problems.

Using alcohol as a way to feel more confident and more in control is a common theme for women who drink. Many report that they drink to feel equal to their male counterparts and prove they are just like them. They use alcohol to feel confident and uninhibited, especially when it comes to dating and sex.

Denying the Problem

Acknowledging the problem of alcoholism is a major step for women. Many women hide their problem drinking from friends and families. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women drink alcohol in their homes or cars – they drink in secret. Unlike men, women do not often go to a local bar to service their needs for alcohol because of commitments to children, husbands or other family members. This could be because there is a particular stigma or shame a woman faces if she is an alcoholic.

Women who have problems with alcohol cannot be categorized into a type. Alcoholism is a disease that can effect anyone regardless of social status, age or marital status. Mothers, professionals, grandmothers and sisters all can be affected by this disease. The difficulty in getting treatment is made worse by denying that there is a problem and not recognizing the problem before it’s too late.

Health Risks for Women

Women who drink alcohol may be exposing themselves and others to a number of health risks. Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of cancers, including breast cancer. Chronic diseases, neurological problems, cardiovascular issues, psychological problems, and social issues are all health conditions that have been linked to alcohol. Studies have also shown that women face more damage to cognitive skills than males if they abuse alcohol.

Because women are affected by alcohol more quickly than men, they face serious health concerns earlier than men. They are more susceptible to organ damage at lower levels of consumption over a shorter period of time. Links have been made between alcohol use and dementia, stroke, hypertension, depression, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, pancreatisis and osteoporosis.

Secondary health issues are also a concern for women. Domestic violence, abuse, sexual assault, car accidents, drownings, sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol poisoning, and burns are just some of the unintentional health problems that may arise.

Women and Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is reported to be a increasing problem around the world for women. Statistics have shown that in the UK, binge drinking amongst women has doubled since 1998 with only a slight increase in men in the same period. In the US, the University of Colorado reported a 67 percent increase in binge drinking for women between 1993 and 2000.

The question of why women are increasingly participating in negative drinking behaviors is not an easy one to answer. Some report that it is linked to an increase of advertising and alcoholic beverages aimed at the female market. Others say it is because of the push for gender equality. Others believe it is because of more stress and more pressure on women to achieve. Regardless of the theories, the problem is important and affects many individuals.

How Alcohol Affects Women

Women and men are affected by alcohol in different ways. Men are, on average, affected by alcohol less than women regardless of height and weight differences. What this means is that even when drinking the same amount as a man, a women will get affected by alcohol quicker, have a higher blood alcohol level, and be intoxicated for longer than men. It also means that the long term effects are more serious for women.

Research has also suggested that women are affected by alcohol more than men because of the fat-to-water ratio in the body. Women contain more fatty tissue than men. Water dilutes alcohol, fatty tissue does not; therefore, more alcohol is retained for longer in a woman’s body.

Sex, Alcohol and Women

Generally speaking, when a woman drinks, she may feel more confident, sexier and more fun. Alcohol is often considered a way for a woman to relax and enjoy herself in the company of others. Women often report that they can flirt without fear, have no inhibitions, and enjoy sex more. But this type of behavior increases potential risks. Under the influence of alcohol, women may go home with a new partner and expose themselves to abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, or an unwanted pregnancy. Women who are under the influence of alcohol may expose themselves to situations where sexual or physical abuse can happen.

Recent research has shown that nearly half of the women surveyed use alcohol as a way to enjoy sex. The same research showed that 6 percent of women surveyed had never had sober sex. The reasons for these alarming results are based in self-confidence and self-esteem. Without alcohol, some women feel afraid of themselves, their bodies, and their partner’s opinion.

Alcohol can also have an impact on sexual health. It has been found to disrupt the menstrual cycle and increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirths, and premature delivery. It is believed that women metabolize alcohol differently during their menstrual cycle which can alter blood sugar levels, hormones and emotions.

Pregnancy and Alcohol

If a woman is pregnant while abusing alcohol, she can not only create health problems for herself but for unborn child as well. Alcohol passes through the bloodstream into the fetus which can affect development of the baby. A large number of birth defects can be linked to women drinking when they are pregnant. These include underweight or premature birth, developmental problems, sight and hearing issues, and other brain conditions. Women should also be cautious when drinking alcohol and breastfeeding a new born as the alcohol passes from the mother to baby in the breast milk. This can cause problems with development for the child and may have an affect on sleep patterns for the baby.

Alcohol Treatments Targeting Women

Treating alcohol dependency or abuse needs to be a multi-faceted approach, especially in the case of women. The emotional issues that women face in regards to self-esteem or confidence need to be carefully managed as they often are linked to deeper personal issues. Increasingly, there are services and groups that target women with drinking problems that make consideration for the sensitivities surrounding the problem. There are also specific services for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and need help with their alcohol problems.

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