What It’s Like to Be an Alcoholic Woman
Before the turn of the century, alcoholism was generally thought of as a “man’s” problem. My, how things have changed…
For years, researchers have warned that more and more women are drinking. And it’s not just a spike in the number of women abusing alcohol. Today, women are drinking a significantly higher volume of alcohol. Yes, many women can now drink men under the table.
The number of female moderate-to-heavy drinkers has steadily increased over the last decade, while the number of light or social drinkers has quickly dwindled. Oddly enough, as more women pick up the bottle, record numbers of men are reining in their drinking habits. It’s a gender gap that keeps narrowing all the time.
After one drink on an empty stomach, a woman’s blood alcohol level is high enough to more than double the risk of a fatal car crash. One drink—that’s all it takes. Even the Transportation Department has taken note of the rise in female DUIs. 1 “There’s the impression out there that drunk driving is strictly a male issue, and it is certainly not the case,” said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “There are a number of parts of the country where, in fact, the majority of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes are female.”2
Women, generally speaking, tap into their emotions more than men and may think and react accordingly. They’re more comfortable sitting in the presence of emotion, which some men may avoid. When the weight of these lingering emotions gets too heavy, however, they may be more likely to seek out a vice…something that will temporarily stifle the pain and fear they feel. It’s the beginning of a vicious circle.
About 5.3 million women in the United States drink alcohol in a way that’s considered dangerous to their health, safety and well-being. Even in small amounts, alcohol has a much different impact on the female body. In fact, many experts acknowledge that, when compared to their male counterparts, binge and heavy drinking sessions put women at a much higher risk for problems.3
According to research studies, women are more likely to drink if they have:
- Family members who are alcohol-dependent.
- A partner who drinks to excess on a regular basis.
- An ability to drink more alcohol (in one sitting) than others.
- A history of clinical depression.
- A history of physical and/or sexual abuse during childhood. 
Driving Under the Influence
There are a number of parts of the country where, in fact, the majority of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes are female.
Women who drink to the point of intoxication more than double their chances of becoming a victim of physical violence and sexual assault. In fact, data reveals half of the sexual assaults reported in the U.S. involve consumption of alcohol by the man, the woman or both.4
Higher Divorce Rates
Researchers in Norway revealed that spouses who consume equal amounts of alcohol were less likely to divorce than those relationships in which one partner is a heavy drinker and the other is not – especially in cases where the wife is the heavier drinker.5
Let’s Talk About Health
Not only do women face an increased number of personal problems, female alcoholics also face some serious health issues. In fact, data has proven that long-term drinking is much more dangerous to the health of women than men.6 Specific alcohol-related female health issues include:
- Liver disease: Women are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation) and to die from cirrhosis.
- Brain disease: Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage.
- Heart disease: Alcoholic women are susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease.
- Breast cancer: One drink per day can increase the risk of breast cancer in some women, especially those who are postmenopausal or have a family history of breast cancer.7
Getting Older and Drinking
Many alcohol-related ailments affecting older drinkers are mistakenly blown off as “normal” signs of aging. In the end, many of these conditions are often missed by doctors – especially among older female patients. Among older alcoholic women, it’s important to remember:
- Alcohol can cause depression, sleeping problems, poor eating habits and frequent falls.
- Aging reduces the body’s ability to process and excrete alcohol. Despite drinking equal volumes of alcohol, women in their 60s and 70s reach a higher blood alcohol level than women in their 30s and 40s.
- Alcohol “kicks in” much faster than it did when they were younger.8
Despite the physical and mental challenges, women aren’t doomed to live out their lives as full-blown alcoholics. In fact, older women (and men) respond to treatment just as well as younger people.
If you’re struggling with alcohol dependency, treatment is available. Don’t cheat yourself out of living a happy and healthy life. Remember, it’s never too late to get sober!
1. Maya Hennessey & Asscociates. (2002). Evaluating, Treating and Monitoring the Female DUI Offender.
2. Injury Board National News Desk. (2009). Women DUIs Are Up.
3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue.
4. Sage Journals: Psychology of Women Quarterly. (1996). Alcohol and Dating Risk Factors for Sexual Assault Among College Women.
5. Wiley Online Library. (2014). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health.
7. BreastCancer.org. (2016). Drinking Alcohol.
8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2003). Use and Misuse of Alcohol Among Older Women.