Santé Center for Healing’s Expert Commentary on the Reports on the Increase in Alcohol Use by Women

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Excessive alcohol use poses both health and safety risks to females, as their physical health is adversely impacted by heavy drinking, including risks for hypertension, cancer, stroke, liver disease, and alcohol-impaired accidents. There has been a troubling increase in consumption of alcohol among women in recent years. Santé Center for Healing shares their opinion on why this is and how to help.

Some of our female clients resort to drinking to cope with daily stressors, which have been magnified over the past year and a half. As healthcare providers, we need to raise awareness of the health risks associated with drinking so that women can make informed decisions about their alcohol use.

Excessive alcohol use poses both health and safety risks to females, as their physical health is adversely impacted by heavy drinking, including risks for hypertension, cancer, stroke, liver disease, and alcohol-impaired accidents. There has been a troubling increase in consumption of alcohol among women in recent years.(1)

  • Approximately 13% of adult women report binge drinking and on average do so 4 times a month, consuming 5 drinks per binge.
  • About 18% of women of child-bearing age binge drink.
  • In 2019, 4% of women overall and 8% of women aged 18 to 25 years had an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use can negatively affect women’s mental health. Women have twice the risk of men for depression and anxiety, and heavy alcohol use exacerbates depression, anxiety, and insomnia.(2)

“Excessive alcohol use is a common response to coping with stress," says Dr. Melissa Pennington, Santé’s Medical Director. “In addition to their jobs, women are more likely than men to shoulder the burdens of housework, child rearing and caregiving. Though traditionally the female gender role is correlated with a higher rate of abstinence, there has been a recent shift in social norms regarding female alcohol consumption. Some of our female clients resort to drinking to cope with daily stressors, which have been magnified over the past year and a half. As healthcare providers, we need to raise awareness of the health risks associated with drinking so that women can make informed decisions about their alcohol use.”

Biological differences make women more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol compared with men, leading to alcohol-related medical problems after shorter duration and at lower levels of consumption compared to men.(3) Alcohol attributable cardiovascular disease, diabetes and severe alcoholic liver problems are more common in females. Women are more vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol and that volumetric brain loss and cognitive dysfunction develop more quickly in women than men.(3)

Drinking is associated with breast cancer in women, even at low levels of consumption. Studies demonstrate that women who consume about 1 drink per day have a 5 to 9 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.(4) It is estimated that one-third of breast cancer cases could be prevented if women did not drink alcohol, were physically active, and maintained a healthy weight. Besides breast cancer, alcohol consumption also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.(2)

Drinking affects women’s mental health differently than men’s. Heavy drinking and alcohol dependent women are more likely to have comorbid psychiatric disorders than men. Compared to men, they are more likely to have an anxiety disorder, increased intensity of depressive symptoms and alcohol cravings. Women are also less likely than men to receive alcohol-related services in their lifetime.(3)

Dr. Pennington also emphasized importance of getting treatment in a timely fashion. “Many women drink for the intent of stress relief, boredom or social connection, but they are unaware of the implications of what is truly happening. If drinking is preoccupying your day or your loved one, it would be time to reach out for help. The beginning of a successful recovery always starts with a single step.”

For more on treating addiction at Santé, click here.

About Santé Center for Healing: Santé Center for Healing provides integrity-driven, evidence-based, and personalized long-term recovery customized for those suffering from substance use disorders, mental health, trauma, problematic sexual behavior, co-occurring disordered eating, and other compulsive behaviors. Founded in 1996, Santé is proud to be celebrating 25 years of service in 2021.

Sources 1. Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health | CDC. (2020, October 23). https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-health.htm
2. PhD, D. S., & MPH, S. G., MD. (2021, April 6). Women, alcohol, and COVID-19. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-alcohol-and-covid-19-2021040622219
3.Sex and gender-related differences in alcohol use and its consequences: Contemporary knowledge and future research considerations | Elsevier Enhanced Reader. (2015). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.08.023
4.Women and Alcohol | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2021). Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/women-and-alcohol

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Nicole Miller