Scientific Evidence that Men and Women are Designed Differently
"... women experience a
greater degree of impairment than men following moderate
alcohol intake in the performance of certain mental tasks, say
the review authors. These include decision-making, short and
long-term memory, and the ability to perform
more than one activity at a time. The last is particularly important to note, as driving a car takes coordinating several activities at
Women and Drinking: Are We Different?
Recent research has led to the realization that many traditional conceptions concerning
alcohol consumption are inaccurate when applied to women.
I don't understand why it seems that women are affected
more quickly than men by alcohol, even if they are the same size.
Women have been found to absorb alcohol significantly faster than do men. Women have 25%
less ADH (an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase) in their stomachs. Having less of this
enzyme means that they metabolize less alcohol than do men, and more alcohol gets into
their bloodstream. The more alcohol in one's bloodstream, the higher one's BAC (blood
alcohol content), and the greater the impact of the alcohol on one's thinking and
behavior. Alcohol gets into the tissues of the body by traveling through water. Men are
composed of 55-65% water, while women are composed of only 45-55% water. In this way,
alcohol is more diluted in men and more concentrated in women, again resulting in
increased BACs in women.
Are there certain times of the menstrual cycle when
women are affected more quickly by alcohol?
Even after drinking identical amounts of alcohol, a women's BAC may vary on different days
in her menstrual cycle. In fact, one study found that when a woman drank the same amount
of alcohol every day for a month, her peak BACs varied each day from .04 to .10 percent.
The highest BACs were reached during the premenstrual time and ovulation. This variation
in BAC is thought to be caused by hormonal fluctuations, especially in regard to estrogen.
Elevated estrogen levels have been found to lead to slower alcohol metabolism, and
therefore increased BACs.
Does being on the birth control pill influence how
alcohol will affect me?
Women taking the Pill have been found to metabolize alcohol more slowly, remain
intoxicated longer, and have a decreased desire to drink, as compared with women not
taking oral contraceptives. All of these effects result from the increased estrogen levels
produced by taking the Pill.
Is there a correlation between drinking and depression
60% of women with severe drinking problems have been found to suffer from depression
before the onset of their drinking problem. Also, in contrast to what is observed in the
general population, women with severe drinking problems outnumber men with similar
problems in terms of attempted and completed suicide. Alcohol is thought to inhibit an
enzyme, monoamine oxidase (MAO), which is correlated with depressive symptoms. Thus, women
may find that drinking helps them to feel better, and inadvertently
"self-medicate" themselves by drinking alcohol to lower MAO levels and decrease
Susan McCarthy, ADAP Counselor/Director, 1 Safford Hall, x2616
Karen Jacobus, Health Educator, 112 Blanchard/21 Health Center, x2466
Unfortunately, alcohol isn't up with the times when it comes to treating men and
women equally. Check out this chart to see how drinking affects you, based on whether
you're male or female.
|Ability to Dilute
||Average Total Body Water: 52%
||Average Total Body Water: 61%
||Women have a smaller
quantity of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
||Men have a larger
quantity of dehydrogenase, which allows them to break down the alcohol
they take in more quickly.
|Premenstrual hormonal changes cause intoxication to set in faster during the days right before
a woman gets her period.
to getting drunk does not fluctuate dramatically at certain times of the
estrogen levels. Birth control pills or other medicine with estrogen
increases estrogen levels in men. Chronic alcoholism has been associated
with loss of body hair and muscle mass, development of swollen breasts and shrunken
testicles, and impotence.
Women drinkers risk more than hangovers
By ANNE BOYD
Collegian Staff Writer
When it comes to alcohol, women are not quite equal to men.
While it is common knowledge that women generally have a lower tolerance of alcohol,
many may not know why that is or what it means to the female body.
In addition to getting drunk faster, research shows that alcohol consumption puts women
at higher risk for breast cancer and liver damage, among other detrimental effects.
"Drinking during a woman's earlier years has the greatest effect in promoting
breast cancer," said Charles S. Fuchs, assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, who published a study on
women and alcohol in the New England Journal of Medicine
Although cancer develops over a long period of time, the late teens and early 20s are
the most vulnerable period because tissue growth is highest, Fuchs said.
|Different tolerance levels between genders is not just because of lower
body weight. Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men because the female body
has less alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme that interacts with alcohol in the
stomach before it enters the blood stream.
This results in higher blood alcohol concentrations over a shorter period of time, said
Chris Dubbs, research specialist at the Pennsylvania Substance Abuse and Health
What this translates into is a higher vulnerability to liver damage.
"Women alcoholics have a higher rate of cirrhosis (of the liver) than men
(alcoholics)," Fuchs said.
Fuchs' study examined the possibility of beneficial effects of light-to-moderate
alcohol consumption for women. While light-to-moderate drinking among men is thought to
reduce overall mortality rates, primarily due to reduced risks of coronary heart disease,
the same level of alcohol consumption among women is more complicated by the increased
risk of breast cancer and cirrhosis.
Despite myth, it is only women who are at higher risks of coronary heart disease who
might benefit from moderate drinking, Fuchs said. These women will benefit more from
reducing other risk factors, such as cigarette smoking and obesity, he said.
When females consume one to two drinks a day, their risk of developing breast cancer
increases by 20 to 40 percent. More than two drinks a day on average increases the risk of
dying of breast cancer by 67 percent, Fuchs said.
But the college female who consumes alcohol typically engages in binge drinking on the
weekend, as opposed to drinking a few drinks on a daily basis. This raises serious
questions for researchers.
While no one has studied these issues with respect to binge drinking, Fuchs said
research is under way.
HealthWorks on campus sponsors a program, "Women and Alcohol" to educate
students about the social and physical implications of alcohol use.
"We emphasize what happens when you are drinking, not so much the long-term
effects," said Katie Yavorka, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs educator for
Women may not know that their menstrual cycle affects alcohol consumption or that the
birth control pill increases the rate of alcohol absorption, Yavorka said.
"It's much easier to get drunk right before your period," she said.
The program also points out that women who drink heavily have more gynecological
problems, greater risk of developing alcohol-related diseases and are more likely to deal
with infertility, miscarriages, still birth and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The following is a "Clinical
Brief" from the August 1997 edition of American Family Physician.
NIAAA Report on Alcohol Metabolism
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has published a report
on alcohol metabolism (Alcohol Alert bulletin no. 35). The bulletin contains
information on the metabolic process; factors influencing alcohol absorption and
metabolism; and the effects of alcohol metabolism on body weight, sex hormones and
Factors that influence alcohol absorption and metabolism include gender and the type of
food in the gastrointestinal tract when alcohol is consumed. Women absorb and metabolize
alcohol differently than men. Because of this, women may be more prone to alcohol-induced
liver and heart damage. Alcohol affects the metabolism of a wide variety of medications,
increasing the activity in some and diminishing the activity in others, potentially
rendering some harmful and some ineffective.
To obtain a free copy of "Alcohol Metabolism" or to add your name to the
mailing list to receive future Alcohol Alert bulletins, write the NIAAA, attn: Alcohol
Alert, Office of Scientific Affairs, Scientific Communications Branch, Willco
Building, Suite 409, 6000 Executive Boulevard, Bethesda, MD 20892.
WOMEN & ALCOHOL USE
|Alcohol affects women differently than it does men. Women can become more intoxicated
than men on the same amount of alcohol--even if they weigh the same. |
|Women are more susceptible to the influence of alcohol just prior to or during their
menstrual cycle than at other times during their cycle. |
|A glass of wine with dinner can add 10 pounds a year on a woman. |
|On average, a woman weighing 120 pounds requires 2.6 hours to metabolize one drink.
|Nearly as many women are chemically dependent as men, but only 28.7% of people admitted
to TCADA-funded programs in 1998 were women. |
|Babies of mothers who drink heavily can be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS
is a cause of birth defects and mental retardation and is prevented by not drinking during
|Women are more likely than men to develop cirrhosis of the liver and other related
|Women are more likely than men to use prescription medicines with alcohol, which can be
very dangerous. |
|The course of alcohol addiction progresses at a faster rate among women than men.
|Studies indicate that moderate drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.
|Over 60% of adult Texas women drink every month. |
|Because heavy drinking is less socially accepted in women, they more often hide their
drinking. Also, women's drinking problems are more frequently misdiagnosed.
|Women are heavily targeted for marketing of alcoholic beverages. |
Other information on women and alcohol and other drug abuse can be found at Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs among
Women from the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence.
If you would like to know more about the above information or about Council services,
please call (713) 942-4100 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources:"Alcohol Facts for Women," Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug
Abuse; "Characteristics of Adults Clients Admitted to TCADA-Funded Treatment
Programs: Jan 1 through Sept. 30, 1998," Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse; www.tcada.state.tx.us/research/trends/dec98.
Drinking Gender Gap
Men and women do absorb and metabolize alcohol in
different ways. There are also important differences in their responses to many of
alcohols potentially damaging effects.
Is there a difference in the way men and women process alcohol?
Yes, men and women do absorb and metabolize alcohol in different ways. There are also
important differences in their responses to many of alcohols potentially damaging
For starters, alcohol enters and leaves the bloodstreams of women more quickly. A
recent article in the journal Alcohol Research and Health reviewing the effects of
moderate drinking in men and women reported that men experience a slower rise and a lower
peak in alcohol levels in their blood than women after consuming one or two alcoholic
drinks. It also found that men eliminate alcohol from their bodies more slowly than women.
The studys authors believe that one of the reasons for the quicker rise and
higher values of blood alcohol levels in women is that they have less total water in their
bodies than men of the same body weight. So, there is less water for the alcohol to
dissolve in, resulting in higher concentrations in womens bodies.
The reason for the more rapid disappearance of alcohol from the bloodstreams of women
is less clear. It may be that women have proportionately larger livers (where most alcohol
is processed) that are capable of more efficiently breaking down this substance.
Despite these findings, interpreting gender differences about the metabolism of alcohol
requires caution. Richard Wilsnack, PhD, professor in the department of neuroscience at
the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks,
N.D., says that the importance of these differences can get exaggerated as well as
For example, eating a large meal can dramatically delay alcohol absorption in your body
-- so much, in fact, that the usually rapid absorption in women may become irrelevant.
In addition, women experience a greater degree of impairment than men following
moderate alcohol intake in the performance of certain mental tasks, say the review
authors. These include decision-making, short and long-term memory, and the ability to
perform more than one activity at a time. The last is particularly important to note, as
driving a car takes coordinating several activities at once.
Regardless of gender differences, remember to drink in moderation.
2000 Healtheon/WebMD. All rights reserved.
Page 7: Critical Information For Women Surrounding Alcohol
Men and women do not respond to alcohol in the same way. Current research indicates
that women are not as efficient "drinking machines" as men. There are many
factors that influence this difference.
- Body size is the first factor. Women are, on the average, built smaller than men.
Therefore, equal amounts of alcohol cause a higher blood alcohol concentration in women
due to the smaller blood volume.
- Body composition is the second factor. The average female carries more body fat than a
male. Body fat contains little water. When consumed, alcohol dilutes in water. Therefore,
a female has less body water to dilute alcohol in, causing a higher blood alcohol
concentration, even if two equally sized men and women drink the same amount of alcohol.
- The third factor is a metabolizing enzyme that helps rid the body of alcohol called
alcohol dehydrogenase. Women have less of this enzyme than men do. Therefore, more of the
alcohol that women drink enters the blood stream as pure alcohol, and stays there.
- Finally, a womans response to alcohol is increased due to hormonal changes when a
woman is about to have her period, or is taking the birth control pill.
For these reasons, women can expect more impairment from alcohol than men consuming an
equal dose of alcohol. Preliminary research suggests that women develop problems with
alcohol more quickly and severely than men do. Therefore to reduce your risk, it is
suggested that women limit their consumption to no more than one drink per hour, no more
than one drink per day, and never more than four times per week.
Remember, this is not an issue of equality, but one of health!