Moderate drinking may have some benefits like reduced heart disease risk, but women are also at higher risk for alcohol-related health issues because they process alcohol differently than men.
A woman’s body chemistry causes them to absorb higher concentrations of alcohol in the bloodstream, so they become impaired more quickly. Why? Women tend to weigh less and have less water in their bodies than most men. Once alcohol passes through the digestive tract, it finds its way to water in the body—the more water there is, the more diluted the alcohol becomes.
US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has recommended women, especially those 65 and older, limit themselves to one drink per day. Here’s how one drink breaks down:
12 ounces of beer, 5% alcohol
5 ounces of wine, 12% alcohol
1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, 40% alcohol
One drink per day sounds reasonable, but normal pours of wine, beer and even cocktails often exceed these amounts, especially at restaurants and bars. Here’s how your drinking habits could lead to health risks down the road.
When you drink more than the recommended amount, you’re increasing your odds of certain health conditions, including:
Liver damage and inflammation: Women are more likely to get an alcohol-induced liver disease, an infection that may affect your digestion and your body’s ability to get rid of toxins, even after consuming less alcohol than men. In more extreme cases, liver disease may trigger the formation of scar tissue, or cirrhosis. Your risk of having these liver problems goes up if you drink 32 to 48 ounces of beer (2 ½ to 4 beers), 4 to 8 ounces of liquor (2 ½ to 4 shots) 16 to 32 ounces of wine (3 to 6 servings) every day for 10 to 15 years.Breast cancer
: Even just one drink per day may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and 2 to 5 drinks may increase their risk even more. The risks are higher for those with a family history of breast cancer and for postmenopausal women.Brain damage
: Brain tests indicate that women increase their risk for alcohol-induced brain shrinkage if they are alcohol dependent. And while experts are still trying to prove that these effects are worse in women, they are confident that both men and women have learning and memory problems when they are heavy drinkers, too. Pregnancy complications
: 10% of pregnant women drink, which can cause problems for both mother and baby. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol it passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking any amount while pregnant can contribute to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and sudden infant death syndrome. Experts don’t recommend any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy.Heart disease
: Moderate drinking, which is about one drink a day for women, two for men, may actually lower your risk of heart disease, but heavy drinking may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Women are most susceptible to these cardio effects in a shorter amount of time than men.Addiction
: Women who drink four or more drinks a day, or eight or more in a week, increase their chances of developing alcohol dependence.