As a woman, it is important to understand how alcohol impacts your own body. If we are going to address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder while also tackling other alcohol related risks it is important that we understand that the effects of consuming alcohol vary greatly from one person to the next. There are several factors that affect a woman’s response to alcohol.
BEING A WOMAN
Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol’s effects. This means that even after drinking smaller amounts, women generally feel greater effects for a longer period of time. Three factors help explain the reasons women’s and men’s bodies break down alcohol differently.
- Women have less water in their bodies to help dilute the alcohol in their blood streams.
- Women’s bodies absorb alcohol at a slower rate.
- Women have lower levels of a particular enzyme that breaks down alcohol in their bodies.
PHYSICAL RESPONSES TO ALCOHOL
The effects of alcohol vary according to physical size. Women who are smaller and/or weigh less will often have a more intense reaction to alcohol. Some women quickly feel the effects of alcohol with only a couple drinks. These women should drink less than the recommended low risk drinking guidelines.
LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES AND STRESSORS
Heave drinking can be a reaction to stressful events in women’s lives. Women often report using substances to deal with negative feelings or problems and to raise their confidence. Women’s use of alcohol and other substances is commonly linked to:
- Domestic violence
- Violence and abuse experienced as a child
- Sexual assault
Women’s drinking levels are often influenced by their partner’s drinking patterns as well as stress in the relationship. Social expectations and judgements about parenting can add shame and fear for women with alcohol problems. As a result women may:
- Not get help as soon as they need to
- Get help for problems other than alcohol use
- Not get referred to alcohol treatment
As women try to balance several different roles and responsibilities, they can experience a great deal of stress. While a small amount of alcohol may relieve stress in the short term, drinking to reduce stress may increase your anxiety levels and lead to alcohol dependence.
Research suggests that the brains and bodies of young women who drink may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Drinking can affect critical physical development during adolescence and young adulthood. Younger women who drink increase their risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Young women need to recognize the short and long term health and social effects of drinking when they are deciding how much and when to drink.
As we age, the kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system and brain all change. These changes make the elimination of alcohol less efficient and can make us more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. It takes less alcohol for older women to feel the effects of alcohol, so it’s important for them to remember this when deciding how much to drink.
Research shows that some people are biologically at risk of developing a drinking problem. It is important to consider what role alcohol has had in your own family. There are no hard fast rules however. Even if you have a family history of alcohol addiction, it doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the same problems. In the same way, people without a family history of alcohol addiction can develop alcohol problems.
Healthy Child Manitoba: Girls, Women and Alcohol