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The Facts about Women and Alcohol

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How many women are affected?

  • About 1.6 million alcoholics in the U.S. are women.

  • Women are the fastest growing segment of the alcohol abusing population.

Which women have the highest risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

  • Women who have family histories of alcoholism.
  • Women who are victims of violence as children or adults.
  • Women whose partners are alcoholic.
  • Women with binge/purge eating disorders (bulimia).
  • Women who are depressed.
  • Young women who are single or co-habitating.
  • Middle aged women in transition (divorce, retirement, children leaving home).
  • Older women with grief and loss issues.

How Alcohol Works on Your Body

  • Alcohol depresses the brain and slows down the nervous system.

  • Alcohol enters the blood stream from the stomach so its toxic effects can be seen everywhere in the body.

  • The rate at which alcohol gets into your system depends on:
    • How much you drink.
    • How fast you drink it.
    • The concentration of the alcohol.
    • Whether or not you have food in your stomach.
    • Gender

  • Some drugs, such as valium or sleeping pills, increase alcohol effects.

  • Women break down alcohol less efficiently than men do. Problems like liver damage occur more quickly and with less alcohol than with men.

  • Women reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than men who drink the same amount because women have less body water.

Medical Problems Women Develop from Drinking

  • High blood pressure-that can increase risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Enlarged or floppy heart.
  • Hormone imbalance.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding.
  • Liver disease such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatitis.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Overweight.
  • Bone loss.

How much drinking is safe?

  • No more than 1 drink per day for daily drinkers (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services).
  • No more than 2 drinks per day for occasional drinkers.
  • One drink means 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz. hard liquor.

By Sally Ragsdale, MSN

University of Washington Medical Center
Patient Education
Women's Health Care Center-Roosevelt


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