Alcohol & Women

It is not being sexist to tell you that the simple fact is that alcohol affects women differently than men. Women can expect substantially more alcohol-caused impairment than men at equivalent levels of consumption.

Women are more sensitive to alcohol:

  • Since, on the average, women are smaller than men, equivalent doses of alcohol produce higher levels of concentration in women's bodies.

  • The average female carries more body fat than the average male, and body fat contains little water. Consequently, most women have less body water to dilute the alcohol, leaving a higher concentration of alcohol in women's bodies.

  • Alcohol dehydrogenase is a metabolizing enzyme that helps the body get alcohol out of its system. Women have less of this enzyme than men, so more of what women drink enters the bloodstream as pure alcohol.

  • Fluctuating hormone levels in women means that the intoxicating effects of alcohol will set in faster when their estrogen levels are higher, premenstrually. Also, alcohol increases the estrogen levels- birth control pills or other medications with estrogen will cause the intoxicating effects to set in at lower levels of BAC.


  • Women absorb alcohol into the bloodstream faster and metabolize it slower than men.
  • Women who drink regularly are at significantly greater risk for liver damage than men even if they drink less or drink for a shorter period of time.
  • Women develop alcoholic liver disease after a comparatively shorter period of heavy drinking and at a lower level of daily drinking than men.28
  • Proportionately more alcoholic women die from cirrhosis than do alcoholic men.27
  • The odds of women experiencing sexual aggression were nine times higher on heavy days of alcohol consumption compared with days of no alcohol consumption.1
  • There is a greater incidence of alcohol misuse in women with eating disorders, especially bulimia, than in the general population.2
  • Girls who start dieting in sixth grade are more likely to engage in alcohol misuse later in life.2
  • A growing body of literature shows that substance abuse among women and the issues surrounding their abuse differ from that among men.3
Alcohol and Athletic Ability
  • Moderate use (2-3 drinks) can results a loss of motor coordination for up to 12 to 18 hours after drinking.4
  • Moderate use (2-3 drinks) can also result in depleted aerobic capacity and negative impact on endurance for up to 48 hours after the last drink has been consumed.4
Unintentional Injury
  • Alcohol consumption by college students is linked to at least 1,400 student deaths and 500,000 unintentional injuries each year.5
  • Evidence links a high proportion of deaths from falls, fires and burns and drownings to drinking.9
  • Various studies estimate that between 13% and 63% of falls are alcohol related.9
  • A common cause of fire among intoxicated people is falling asleep or passing out before extinguishing a cigarette.9
  • Alcohol use is implicated in one-third of drownings.9
  • 8% of all ER visits each year for illness or injuries are associated with alcohol.6
Date Rape
  • Alcohol or other drugs was a factor with 75% of the men and 55% of the women in reported acquaintance rapes on college campuses.
  • Alcohol is the number one date rape drug.
  • More than three-quarters of female victims of nonfatal domestic violence reported that their assailant had been drinking or using drugs.7
  • Alcohol does not relieve depression - it makes it worse.
  • Tolerance is the lessening of the effectiveness of alcohol after a period of prolonged or heavy use.
  • Tolerance means you may not feel the same effects of alcohol as you continue to use, but your blood alcohol concentration level may remain high.
Alcohol and Depression
  • One third of suicides are associated with alcohol misuse.
  • Approximately 5% of college students report experiencing poor mental health and this coincides with a high risk for alcohol abuse.8
  • Ages 18-24 coincides with the peak years for onset and intensification of the most common mental health problems among youth - including alcohol abuse.9
Alcohol and the Body
  • Alcohol goes directly to the bloodstream, which is why it effects every system in the body.
  • Excessive drinking can decrease the amount of testosterone in a man's body and cause impotence.
  • Alcohol is a nervous system depressant.
  • Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine, and less rapidly from the stomach and colon.
  • A pulse rate lower than 40 is a medical emergency. Call 911!
  • A respiration (breaths) rate lower than 8-10 per minute is a medical emergency. Call 911!
  • A daily glass of wine will add 10 pounds per year.
  • The peak Blood Alcohol Level occurs 60 to 90 minutes after ingestion when the stomach is empty.
  • The presence of food in the stomach slows the rate of alcohol absorption. However the amount of alcohol absorbed remains unchanged.
  • Vomiting is part of the automatic defense system of the body activated to prevent more alcohol from being absorbed.
  • When a person's blood alcohol level ranges from .02 g/100ml to .08 g/100ml he/she usually has a change in mood and may have trouble interpreting what he/she sees and hears.
  • Birth control pills slow down the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the body
  • If someone passes out and will not respond to attempts to wake them, it is very possible they are suffering from alcohol poisoning.
  • Several factors influence how alcohol will affect a person: age, gender, physical condition, amount of food eaten and other drugs or medicines taken.10
  • The path of alcohol in the body is the mouth, stomach, small intestine, heart, brain and the liver.6
  • Individuals with the same weight, but different muscle builds will differ in their BAC.
  • Individuals with more muscle are less affected by alcohol because the muscle contains water that absorbs the alcohol from the bloodstream.
  • Premenstrual hormonal changes cause a faster increase in BAC during the days right before a woman gets her period.
Chronic Alcohol Use
  • Chronic alcohol use can damage the frontal lobes of the brain.6
  • Chronic alcohol use can cause an overall reduction in brain size.6
  • More than half of current drinkers have a family history of alcoholism.11
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Pregnant women who drink risk having babies with fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have: smaller heads and brains, some degree of mental retardation, poor coordination, hyperactivity and abnormal facial features.6
  • 10% of alcohol health care costs are for care of fetal alcohol syndrome.9
Adult Drinking Behaviors
  • Binge Drinking is more common in men than in women.
  • Six in 10 U.S. adults were current drinkers in 1999-2001 and about 1 in 4 were lifetime abstainers.12
  • Nearly one-third of adults were classified as light drinkers (3 or fewer drinks per week).10
  • Nearly 5 percent of adults were classified as heavier drinkers (7 or more drinks per week for women; 14 or more for men).10
  • About 20 percent of adults had 5 or more drinks per day at least once in the past year.10
  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol present in the blood when consuming alcohol.13
  • blackout is an amnesia-like period that is often associated with drinking. A person may be functioning normally, but later, the person has no memory of occurrences.8
  • During a blackout, an individual can participate in a significant, emotionally charged event but have no recollection of what occurred.14
  • When blood alcohol levels rise slowly, people are less likely to experience blackouts, even if they eventually become intoxicated.12
Alcohol Beverage Facts
  • Most wine coolers have the same amount of alcohol as a 12-oz. beer.
  • One 12-oz. beer, one 5-oz. glass of wine and one 1.5 oz. shot of liquor have the same amount of alcohol.
  • Ethanol or Ethyl Alcohol - Beverage alcohol is produced by fermenting or distilling various fruits, vegetables or grains.
  • In addition to being a depressant, alcohol is a chemical solvent, a local anesthetic and an irritant.
  • Alcohol is found in many beverages, also in many prescription and non-prescription drugs.
  • Recent studies show that after six months, treatment for alcoholism is successful for 40 to 70% of participants.15
  • Substance abuse treatment is less expensive than the alternatives, such as incarceration.16
  • More than 18 million people who use alcohol need substance abuse treatment.9
  • Overall, fewer than one-fourth of those needing treatment for substance abuse get it.9
Alcohol and Advertising
  • The alcohol industry spent more than $1 billion on television, radio, print and outdoor advertising in 1997.8
  • The total number of alcohol ads on network, local and cable television increased to 289,381 in 2002, a 39% hike from 2001.13
  • Spending for alcohol ads on T.V. by the alcohol industry grew by 22%, to more than $990 million in 2002.13
  • Youth 12-20 were more likely on a per capita basis than adults to have seen 66,218 alcohol ads, a 30% increase over 2001.13
Youth and Drinking
  • One third of all twelfth graders have been drunk in the past 30 days.
  • Among high school seniors, whites are most likely and blacks least likely to be heavy drinkers.17
  • Nearly four out of every five students (77%) have consumed alcohol by the end of high school.26
  • In 2003, more than half (58%) of 12th graders reported having been drunk at least once in their life.26
  • In 2003 the proportion of 12th graders who admitted drinking an alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days was 48%.26
  • Binge drinking rates peaked in 1979 and were lowest in 1992.26
  • Perceived availability of alcohol by 12th graders has remained very high at 95%.26
  • The age of 19 to 24 is associated with the highest prevalence of periodic heavy alcohol consumption during the life span.18
  • On average, college students may drink on fewer occasions than their noncollegiate peers, but they drink heavily on a more frequent basis than nonstudents.16
  • College athletes tend to drink more than peers who are not involved with campus-based sports.17
  • In terms of size, students at smaller colleges tend to drink more than students at larger schools.17
  • The number of college students who do not drink has increased to approximately 20%.19
  • Approximately one in three 18-to-24-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious injuries is intoxicated.17
  • About one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among those aged 18 to 24 involve alcohol.17
  • The perception that alcohol use is socially acceptable correlates with the fact that more than 80% of American youth consume alcohol before their 21st birthday.20
  • In a recent study, 31% of students met criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and 6% for alcohol dependence in the past 12 months.21
  • Members of fraternities and sororities tend to drink more than students who do not participate in the Greek system.17
  • A study recently revealed that heavy drinking among members of Greek organizations does not generally lead to increased alcohol use later in life.22
  • 30% of students who drank in the past year said they had driven after drinking alcohol during the past 30 days.21
  • Rates of heavy alcohol use are highest among those with less than a college degree.9
  • Alcohol is often not thought of as a drug.
  • Alcohol is the #1 misused drug in the U.S.
  • Poor judgement is a natural outcome when the brain is influenced by alcohol.
  • One third of homicides are associated with alcohol misuse.
  • One half of car accidents are associated with alcohol misuse.
  • In 1998, 83% of adults surveyed said that adults who illegally give alcohol to minors should be penalized.23
  • Alcohol and drug abuse are factors in the placement of more than three-quarters of children entering foster care.9
  • In 1996, six million children under age 18 lived with a parent who was dependent upon alcohol.9
  • Health care costs attributed to alcohol abuse in 1995 were nearly twice those of drug abuse-related costs ($23 billion vs. $12 billion). 9
  • Deaths from alcohol use highest for black males, though white males are more likely to drink.24
  • Heavy alcohol use is relatively more common among people living in small metropolitan areas than in large metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas.9
  • Heavy drinking is highest among those living in the North Central region of the U.S.9
  • Many states hold the sellers or servers of alcohol partly liable for alcohol's consequences.9
  • In 2000, state beer excise taxes ranged from $.02 (Wyoming) to $.92 per gallon (Hawaii).25
1Parks, K., et al. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 4/2004.
3Ashley, O., Marsden, M.E., Brady, T. American Journal of Drug Abuse and Alcohol Abuse, "Effectiveness of substance abuse treatment programming for women: a review." 2/03.http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0978/is_1_29/ai_101175127
4Middlebury College - Middlebury, Vermont, http://www.middlebury.edu/offices/healthed/
5The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction, Alcohol Alert, 58:1-4, 2002.
6Massachusetts General Hospital Report, March 8, 2004.
7National Crime Victimization Survey, as reported in U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Alcohol and Crime, 1998.
8The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 4/04.
9Harvard University's College Health Behaviors Newsletter, 1(2), 4/04.
10University's of Washington, Eric Chudler's Neuroscience for Kidshttp://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/alco.html
11U.S. Alcohol Epidemiologic Data Reference Manual, Vol 6. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1998.
12Heath Behaviors of Adults: United States, 1999-2001. Series Report 10, Number 219.
13Kinney, Jean & Leaton, Gwen. Loosing the Grip, Mosby-Year Book, Inc. New York, 1995.
15Substance Abuse: The Nation's Number One Health Problem: Key Indicators for Policy, Update 02/2001. Prepared by the Scneider Institute for Health Policy, Brandeis University for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey.
16Institute of Medicine. Pathways of Addiction - Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1996.
17U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Summary of Findings from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Rockville, MD, 1999.
18Johnston et al., Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2000. Volume 1: Secondary School Students. NIH Publication No. 01-4924. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2001.
19High Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need to Learn Final Report on the Panel on Contexts and Consequences. Task Force on the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIH. 4/02. www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov
20U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010, conference edition, Vol. II, Washington, DC: USDHHS, 2000.
21Knight, et al. Alcohol abuse and dependence among U.S. college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002, in press.
22Sher et al. Short-and long-term effects of fraternity and sorority membership on heavy drinking: A social norms perspective. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 15(1): 42-51, 2001.
23U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Summary of Findings from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Rockville, MD, 1999. Table 57.
24Stingson FS, Nephew TM. "State Trends in Alcohol-Related Mortality, 1979-92."
25Federation of Tax Administrators. State Tax Rates and Structure: State Beer Excise Tax Rates, January 1, 2000. www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/beer.html
26Monitoring the Future. National Results on Adolescent Drug Abuse: Overview of Key Findings 2003. National Institute on Drug Abuse.http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/overview2003.pdf
27Nicholls, P.; Edwards, G.; and Kyle, E. Alcoholics admitted to four hospitals in England: General and cause-specific mortality. Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 35(3):841-855, 1974.
28Saunders, J.B.; Davis, M.; and Williams, R. Do women develop alcoholic liver disease more readily than men? British Medical Journal 282:1140-1143, 1981. Tuyns, A.J., & Pequignot, G. Greater risk of ascitic cirrhosis in females in relation to alcohol consumption. International Journal of Epidemiology 13(1):53-57, 1984.