Myths about alcohol consumption abound. For example, neither hot coffee nor cold showers actually sober up a person. You only become sober as your body processes and removes the alcohol from your system, and it takes the same amount of time whether or not you add coffee and showers. However, one common belief about alcohol is actually true: it has greater alcohol affects women more than men.
Why Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently?
There are several reasons why alcohol tends to affect women differently:
- Women have less water in their bodies. The extra water in men’s bodies helps dilute the alcohol as they take it in. When women drink, more alcohol hits their system without being diluted.
- The hormones in a woman’s body can influence how much she feels the alcohol affects women more than men. Women tend to be affected more when they have higher estrogen levels. This means that women who are premenstrual or taking birth control pills or other hormonal supplements can be more affected because these raise estrogen levels. Also, no matter what the time of the month, women naturally have more estrogen in their bodies than men.
- Most women weigh less than most men. If a small person drinks the same amount of alcohol as a larger person, the smaller person will have a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. Thus most women will feel tipsier than the men they are drinking with, even if all have the same number of drinks.
- Alcohol dehydrogenase is the enzyme in the body that helps break down the alcohol. Women naturally have lower levels of this enzyme than men, so it takes longer for them to process the same amount of alcohol.
Negative Health Effects for Women
Due to these factors, alcohol can have deeper long-term effects on a woman’s health over time than on a man who drinks the same amount of alcoholic beverages. Women experience damage to various systems in their bodies. For example:
- Women develop liver damage more quickly than men, and women who drink heavily are more likely to die from cirrhosis or develop alcoholic hepatitis.
- While moderate consumption of alcohol can lower the risk of heart disease, women who drink a lot have a higher risk of a variety of heart problems.
- Women who have more than one alcoholic drink per day may have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Female drinkers are generally less likely than males to drive under the influence, but women have a greater risk of dying in an alcohol-related collision than men with the same blood alcohol content. In the last two decades, the percentage of female drivers in deadly alcohol-related crashes has risen.
So How Much Is Too Much?
There is no danger in having an occasional drink, and drinking alcohol in moderation has health benefits. But most people don’t understand what health professionals consider “moderation”.
As a general rule, two drinks per day is considered acceptable. However, because alcohol does tend to affect women more than men, many experts recommend that women have no more than one alcoholic drink per day. If you drink only occasionally, you should refrain from having more than four drinks in 24 hours.
In these guidelines, “one drink” is considered to be one 12-oz. beer (5 percent alcohol); 8 ounces of malt liquor or beer with higher alcoholic content (7 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (11 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor such as vodka, gin, or whiskey (40 percent alcohol).
Overconsumption of alcohol can seriously affect both the short-term and long-term health of men and women. However, due to some natural characteristics of the female body, women are more prone to these adverse alcohol affects women more than men. Drinking in moderation or abstaining entirely is the best way for women to protect themselves from the dangers of drinking too much alcohol.
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