Alcoholism As a Women’s Health Issue      

         Alcoholism is generally seen as more of a problem for men than women and it is generally true that fewer women drink than men; nevertheless, alcoholism among women is a rising problem in America today. However, the effects of heavy drinking can be more exaggerated in women; in fact, the death rate for women alcoholics is up to 100% higher than that for their male counterparts.

Because of a woman’s physical attributes, the effects of alcohol are felt much faster than for men and addiction can also develop more rapidly. There are also different factors at play for women drinkers than men and they are more likely to self-medicate as a result of a relationship breakdown, loss of a loved one or a traumatic life experience.

Women are also more likely to attempt to conceal their drinking problem from others, particularly if they are in a caregiving role. The prospect of losing custody of their children or having them placed into care can prevent many mothers with alcoholism from reaching out for treatment and their issues can go undetected by others too.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Women?

Alcohol abuse is when drinking has become a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to health and the signals that someone has a problem include:

  • Becoming unreliable, forgetful or avoiding responsibility
  • Not turning up for work consistently or skipping school
  • Drinking even when it is a dangerous situation, such as before driving
  • Continuing to drink secretly despite very real tensions with friends and family
  • A regularly disheveled appearance and a sense that they disconnected from reality
  • Mood swings, weight loss or weight gain

It is estimated that there are more than 5 million women in America who drink to excess regularly. The problem women specifically face is that being drunk can lead to risky situations that can be life-threatening.

The difficulties women alcoholics face include:

  • Poor judgment leading to risk of assault
  • A body that is more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol than a man’s
  • Women are more likely to develop liver inflammation as a result of heavy drinking and are more likely to die from cirrhosis
  • Increased vulnerability to brain disease including loss of function and harmful cellular changes
  • An increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease

Why Women Drink

The reasons behind alcoholism in women are usually different from those of men and are more likely to relate to their closest personal relationships and their sense of self-worth. Whereas men tend to be more expressive of their negative emotions, women have a tendency to internalize them which can be extremely unhealthy over prolonged periods.

Women who are caregivers face additional stresses and strains in their daily lives that can result in them self-medicating with alcohol to alleviate the symptoms. This can quickly lead to addiction as a woman comes to rely on alcohol to feel able to cope with their responsibilities. Also, for many women caregivers, they feel as though they are at the bottom of their own priority list and it is this inability to recognize their value that can drive them further into alcoholism.

Although stress is a common theme in most people’s lives, research has shown that one of the most common reasons women turn to drink is to help them cope. However, prolonged alcohol abuse can also create additional mental health issues including depression and anxiety, which ultimately magnifies the challenges they face even more.

Marital problems, depression, sexual abuse and even body shape can influence a woman sufficiently enough to encourage her to seek relief in alcohol. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of women’s alcohol addiction treatment programs being made available across America to provide gender-specific support to the very special needs of female alcoholics.


Shelley Magee Author