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Women and Alcohol: How Common Is Alcoholism Among Women?


Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 8/18/2022

Men and women both consume alcohol and it’s been that way for thousands of years. Statistics reveal that men and women drink similar amounts of alcohol with the most variation coming from the type of alcohol consumed. That said, women are less likely to become alcoholics than men (on average)

Alcohol also provides benefits in small quantities. Some benefits it provides are increasing attentiveness, activity, and reducing the risk of heart disease. Alcohol also poses many risks to women. Some of those risks are developing liver disease faster than men who drink the same amount, alcohol-related hepatitis, cirrhosis, and brain damage.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, or alcohol abuse disorder, is an alcohol addiction. An alcohol addiction begins as binge drinking or drinking alcohol daily. However, alcohol addiction progresses to alcoholism when alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur after someone stops drinking.

Alcoholism also becomes more apparent when the urge to drink becomes harder to control.
To be diagnosed with AUD the following needs to happen in 12 months.

  • Using alcohol in higher amounts or for a longer time than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Cravings, or a strong desire to use alcohol.
  • Being unable to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol use.
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite negative interpersonal or social problems that are- likely due to alcohol use.
  • Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
  • Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (such as driving or operating machinery).
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the presence of a psychological or physical problem that is probably due to alcohol use.
  • Having a tolerance (i.e. needing to drink increasingly large or more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect).

Women are at a high risk of getting AUD as well. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the “low” risk range for women to get AUD is no more than 3 drinks on any given day and no more than 7 drinks in any given week. While it is easier for women to get AUD, more men suffer from it.

In 2017 there were a reported 14 Million people aged 12 and older suffering from AUD. At that time of all the men in the world, 7% of the total male population was suffering from AUD. At the same time, only 3.8% of women were suffering from it.

What are the Benefits of Alcohol use to Women?

There are some benefits of alcohol use for women. Moderate alcohol consumption is good for the heart but heavy alcohol consumption leads to alcoholism.

We list the benefits of drinking alcohol for women below.

  • Reduces bad cholesterol LDL and raises good cholesterol, HDL
  • Decreases the chance of Heart Disease
  • Reduces the risk of developing dementia
  • Gives women more confidence in social settings
  • Thins bloods and prevents blood clots

A study done by a Journal called Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment conducted a study that included 365,000 participants in 1977. In this study, they learned that moderate alcohol drinkers were 23% less likely to develop either Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia.

These are only some of the benefits. As more research comes out each year, new benefits are revealed.

What are the Risks of Alcohol Use to Women?

While the benefits were general and could mostly be for either men or women, the risks are worse for women. As I stated previously, women need to consume less alcohol to be affected by these risks which put them in greater danger.

Some of the risks women face by consuming alcohol are listed below.

  • Cancer. Women who drink more than a moderate amount increase their risk of Breast, Head, and Neck Cancers. This is especially dangerous because most women are smaller than most men and therefore have less body water to absorb the alcohol and also metabolize the alcohol slower than men do. A recent study shows that consuming as few as 3 – 6 alcoholic beverages a week regularly can increase your chance of Breast Cancer by 15%.
  • Brain Damage. For the same reason as cancer women need to be more careful than men when consuming alcohol because the alcohol that does not get absorbed by body water goes into their bloodstream. Once in their blood that alcohol will hit their brain within 5 minutes. Since more alcohol is in their blood than in men’s, if they drank the same amount of alcohol, it means more alcohol is going directly to their brain as well.
  • Pregnancy. One major risk that can not affect men is drinking in pregnancy. All doctors will advise not to have any amount of alcohol in pregnancy as it can have serious harmful consequences on the growing unborn baby. This can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

These are only some of the risks. Alcohol interacts with everyone’s body differently, there are individual risks.

How Does Alcohol Cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a condition that results from a mother’s consumption of alcohol during their pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy and any amount can cause FAS. A child that has FAS will have both physical and mental defects.

Physical defects are a low nasal bridge, thinner upper lip, flat midface, short nose, and some minor ear abnormalities. Mental problems are depression as well as an increased difficulty in learning new things and remembering things as well.

Some more severe symptoms include finger or limb being deformed, heart and/or kidney problems, and severe vision problems. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a severe condition and needs to be identified and treated as early as possible. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for FAS.

However, the earlier you catch it the better because there are treatments to manage the symptoms. Early diagnosis may improve the quality of life for the child as this is a lifelong condition.

How Common is Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Alcoholic liver disease is a common but preventable liver disease caused by the heavy use of alcohol. In 2015, 16% of all liver transplants were caused by alcohol liver disease. In 2020 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listed the number of deaths that year caused by alcohol liver disease as 29,505.

According to Yale Medicine, about 90% of heavy alcohol users have alcohol-related liver disease. Nine out of every ten people who have more than 3-4 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week have this disease. Due to their average height, weight, and body water, women have a higher risk of developing alcoholic liver disease.

What are the Signs of Alcoholism to Women?

Of all the people admitted into addiction treatment centers in the United States, women make up 25% of them. Of the reported 15 million alcoholics in the United States, 4.6 million of them are women, which equals 31%. Being able to spot the signs of alcohol abuse can help to either get yourself or someone else the help they need.

So, what is alcoholism in women and what does it look like?

The signs to look for are found below.

  • Drinking more than planned: Binge drinking for women has often considered about 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. Alcoholics are unable to have just 1 drink and tend to end up binge drinking almost every time they go out.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about or talking about alcohol: Alcoholics will notice that they tend to either be constantly buying alcohol or trying to get their hands on it. They will also notice that they may constantly suffer from the effects of hangovers which is a sign of overdrinking. They will also drink alcohol a lot even if they are alone.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Alcoholics will tend to put off important things such as work or family to be able to drink more. They may go out often when they work the next morning as well.
  • Difficulties with Menstruation: Heavy alcohol consumption is also linked with fertility issues. Women may stop menstruating or enter into early menopause. Heavy drinking can also lead to irregular menstrual cycles as well.

These are only some of the signs of alcoholism in women. Depending on the woman, the signs will vary.

What are the AUD Statistics for Women?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is fairly common in the United States. In 2019 there were 14.5 million people aged 12 and older who had AUD. 5.5 million of these people are women. That number is about 38%. 38% of people in the United States who suffer from AUD are women. However, this number almost doubles for young adults aged 12 to 17.

In this age group, 60% of people with AUD are women. These statistics show us that at a younger age women are the ones who tend to binge drink and suffer from AUD while as they get older it is men who become the more heavy drinkers.

What Percentage of Women in America are Alcoholics?

In 2019 there was a report that showed that of people aged 18 and older about 86% of people have had alcohol at some point in their life. Years ago the ratio was about 3 women to every 1 man. Now, it’s closer to 1 to 1 but there are still more women who drink alcohol than men.

In the same report, about 55% of people reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Of those people who drank alcohol in the last month 51% of them are women.

What are the Treatments for Alcoholic Women?

There are many treatments for alcoholism in women. The best treatment modality is to join a program or rehab center for alcohol use. There are many different centers including both inpatient and outpatient. Rehab centers provide immediate help but also set you up for a very successful alcohol-free future. There are also programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that feature sponsors and support groups.

Depending on the severity of alcohol addiction and withdrawal, medications are used. Medications used for alcoholism vary but the most common option is Naltrexone. Most medications for alcoholism treat withdrawal symptoms or make the effects of alcohol feel less pleasurable.

What Kind of Alcohol do Women Drink?

A 2019 survey polled men and women to identify the common types or alcohol consumed. The 3 types they surveyed were beer, liquor, and wine.

Of all the women polled, 15.6% listed beer as their drink of choice, giving men a clear win in this category at 38.7%. For wine, the numbers are different. Of the women polled 43.2% of them stated wine as their favorite. The last one, liquor, was close but 41.2% of the women polled picked liquor as their favorite and 39.3% of men chose liquor.

Overall, wine is the most common alcoholic beverage that women consume.