Women and Alcohol Abuse

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Alcohol Recovery for Women

In America, women are the fastest-growing population of alcohol and drug users.1 Women who become alcoholics may experience a number of effects related to their drinking, including cancer, heart disease, and liver damage. Unfortunately, alcohol use also puts women at risk of becoming victims of sexual assault and other crimes.

Many alcohol rehab and recovery programs focus on helping female alcoholics stop drinking and work through other issues related to their alcohol abuse, including trauma, depression, or sexual abuse.

This article will discuss the following topics:
  • Why do women drink alcohol?
  • Effects of alcohol on women
  • Signs of alcoholism in women
  • Alcohol rehab for women
  • Women and alcohol facts

Why Do Women Drink Alcohol?

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There are a number of reasons why women drink alcohol. Some of these reasons place women at a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. They include the following:

  • Teenage girls may drink to have fun or to relieve stress. Teenagers are more susceptible to peer pressure, and early use of alcohol can increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder in the future.2
  • Relationship status can affect a woman’s drinking. Women who have never been married, are separated or divorced, or live with a domestic partner are more likely to drink than married women. Married women are more likely to drink when their partner is a heavy drinker.2
  • Women who have difficulty maintaining close personal relationships generally drink more than other women. Women who drink alone are more likely to develop issues with drinking.2
  • Women who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to be problem drinkers. Alcohol is sometimes used to numb painful feelings or thoughts. 2, 3
  • A family history of alcohol problems can be a risk factor for drinking.2, 3 Alcoholism has a genetic component, so women who have one or more family members with alcoholism or addiction are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.2
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, can make a woman more likely to drink. Some individuals use alcohol to self-medicate or to relieve the symptoms of an underlying mental health issue. Depression raises the risk of problem drinking.2
  • Some women drink alcohol to manage stress. Women face a lot of stress, and some use alcohol to relax. 2
  • Today’s women stay single longer and focus on their careers. Socialization often revolves around food and drink, and many women spend more time with friends or co-workers, which can lead to a higher likelihood of drinking.

Signs of Alcoholism in Women

Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is a diagnosable condition. A woman can be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder if she displays 2 or more of the following signs and symptoms in a 12-month period.

  • Drinking more or for longer than planned.Women who are problem drinkers often set limits on how much alcohol they plan to consume or how long they plan to drink. But with alcoholism, this is difficult or impossible. 4
  • Inability to cut down or to control use of alcohol despite a strong desire to do so.4 Many women with alcoholism truly want to stop drinking. But addiction causes changes in the brain that can reduce impulse control and judgment.5
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol. Addiction becomes a full-time job. Women may spend excessive amounts of time procuring alcohol, getting drunk, and recuperating from a hangover. 4
  • Strong cravings to drink. Experiencing urges to drink alcohol can be a symptom of alcoholism in women. Many people enjoy having a drink, but a woman with an alcohol use disorder may feel that she “needs” a drink. 4
  • Missing work, school, or neglecting home responsibilities, such as childcare. Alcohol impairs coordination and judgment, and can interfere with daily responsibilities. The inability to manage everyday tasks can be due to the effects of being drunk or from nursing a hangover or withdrawal symptoms.4
  • Continuing to drink despite the fact that alcohol is causing problems in her life. When an activity or substance creates problems, most people eliminate the problem-causing behavior. A woman who is an alcoholic is usually unable to stop drinking simply by thinking of the consequences. 4
  • Continuing to drink after recurring negative social consequences. Alcohol use can create strain in interpersonal relationships, specifically with family, friends, and significant others. 4
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as before driving.4 Women are less likely to drive after drinking. But a mother who has been drinking and needs to pick up her children might be inclined to drive drunk.3
  • Continuing to drink after experiencing medical or mental health issues related to alcohol. As listed above, alcohol affects physical and mental health. But this is often not enough to inspire women to quit drinking. Proper treatment is important for recovery. 4
  • Getting a DUI. Legal troubles are not necessarily part of the diagnostic criteria. But getting in trouble for driving under the influence can be a red flag of an alcohol use disorder
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol. Over time, the body adjusts to the amount of alcohol that is consumed, and a woman will need to drink increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance is usually another indicator of a developing or established alcohol use disorder. 4
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped. Chronic drinking leads the body to adapt to the steady levels in the body. When drinking is stopped, a woman may experience painful and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, insomnia, hallucinations, seizures, or delirium tremens. 4
  • Drinking in the morning to relieve a hangover. Physical dependence on alcohol can cause shakiness or other withdrawal symptoms to appear in the mornings, and a woman may take a drink to “steady her nerves.” Drinking in the morning is usually a warning sign of alcoholism in women, even if it is simply to relieve the symptoms of a bad hangover.


Alcohol Effects on Women

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Alcohol affects women differently than men, both in the short-term and long-term. Additionally, there are a number of risks that women face due to drinking.
Effects of alcohol on women include the following:

  • Generally, women weigh less than men and have less water in their bodies. Alcohol is passed through the digestive system and spreads through water in the body. Because women have less water in their bodies, their brains and other vital organs are exposed to more alcohol and toxic byproducts from metabolizing alcohol than men.2, 3 This also makes women more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.3
  • Pregnant women who drink are at risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is a preventable mental impairment caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb.2
  • Women who drink heavily are more likely to become a victim of sexual assault or violence.2, 3 This can be due to impaired judgment, loss of coordination, blacking out, volatile relationships, fighting, or being in the company of individuals who may “take advantage” of a drunk woman. Women who drink are also more likely to face issues with interpersonal relationships and the legal system than men who drink.3
  • The long-term effects of alcohol take a heavier toll on women, regardless of the amount of alcohol or the length of alcohol use. This means that even if women drink less than men, and for a shorter period of time, health effects are still more likely to show earlier. 2
  • Women who drink alcohol are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.2, 3 This is especially true for women who have a family history of breast cancer or who have already gone through menopause. Heavy alcohol use can also increase the risk of cancers of the head, neck, and digestive organs.2
  • Women are more likely to suffer damage to the liver than men, including inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis. Women are also more likely to die from cirrhosis than men.2, 3
  • Long-term alcohol use can change the way the brain looks and works. Women are more susceptible to developing brain damage from alcohol use even when they drink less than men.2, 3
  • Women who drink heavily are at higher risk of developing heart disease than men.2 Although having one drink can reduce the risk of heart disease, heavy drinking can contribute to diseases of the heart muscle, such as cardiomyopathy.3

Alcohol Rehab for Women

Woman discussing alcoholism in rehab

Many types of alcohol rehab for women exist. These can include:

  • Inpatient treatment – Some inpatient rehab facilities offer programs tailored to women. Women may find it easier to open up about issues, problems, concerns, or emotions in an all-female group. Women’s groups are often much more comfortable for women that have experienced victimization or abuse from men.
  • Outpatient treatment – Many outpatient recovery facilities also offer groups for women only. This can help the alcohol recovery process by allowing women to feel more comfortable, as well as reducing distraction from the opposite sex.
  • Dual diagnosis programs – Women who are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder as well as a mental health disorder, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, or mood disorders, should seek programs that specialize in treating both issues simultaneously. Often, the mental health diagnosis and addiction are linked, with one exacerbating the other. In order to maintain sobriety, both issues must be addressed in treatment.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous – This is a free, self-help group based on the 12 steps of recovery. Women can meet in mixed-sex groups or in women’s-only meetings. Twelve-step participation can help to maintain long-term sobriety, especially when combined with formal treatment.6
  • Counseling – Private counseling with a mental health professional who specializes in treating alcoholism can be especially helpful. Formal treatment often relies on group and individual sessions, but some women feel more comfortable working one-on-one with a counselor or therapist to treat their alcoholism.

Women and Alcohol Facts

Alcohol use in women has been extensively researched. The following are some facts and statistics about alcohol use in women:

  • In the United States, more than 5 million women drink in a manner that can be harmful to their health and safety. They risk experiencing the damaging physical and mental effects of alcohol, participating in risky behaviors, or becoming victims of violence or sexual assault. 2
  • Nearly 1 in 8 women, or about 14 million U.S. women, binge drink about 3 times a month. Binge drinking is defined as having more than 4 alcoholic drinks in a single sitting, and women who binge drink average about 6 drinks per occasion.7
  • Approximately 20% of girls in high school binge drink. Binge drinking puts women and girls at increased risk of experiencing negative consequences. Binge drinking is linked to approximately 23,000 female deaths each year.7
  • In 2015, about 87 million American women aged 12 or older reported drinking alcohol in the past year, with 65 million reporting drinking alcohol within the last month. About 28 million women reported binge drinking in the last month, and about 6 million reported heavy drinking in the last month.8
  • Relatively few women get treatment for alcoholism. In 2015, 731,000 women (0.5% of the population) received treatment for an alcohol use disorder.8

Find a Women’s Alcohol Recovery Program

Women with alcoholism have a hard time stopping on their own.

If you or a loved one is struggling with problem drinking or alcoholism, call our helpline at 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? . Rehab placement specialists are available to help you learn more about alcohol recovery centers for women.

Sources

[1]. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2016). Alcoholism, Drug Dependence and Women.

[2]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue.

[3]. National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1999). Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?

[4]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

[5]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction.

[6]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (3rd edition).

[7]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Binge drinking.

[8]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Results from the 2015 national survey on drug use and health: Detailed tables. P880

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Last updated on December 7, 2018
2018-12-07T03:12:50+00:00