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Alcohol Use and Addiction in Women

Regardless of gender, excessive alcohol use can have negative health risks and harmful consequences. However, due to a woman’s unique physiological and hormonal variables, women are generally more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than men.(1,2) Even though men typically drink more frequently and consume higher amounts, women are more likely to absorb and metabolize alcohol because of the differences in their body structures and chemistry.(1) This means the effects of alcohol will usually last longer for women and they are more susceptible to the detrimental health effects associated with alcohol use and alcoholism.(1)
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Alcohol Use, Abuse and Alcoholism in Women

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women are the fastest-growing population of alcohol users in the U.S.3 Furthermore, 13% of females reported binge drinking (meaning they have 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours) around 4 times per month.1,4 While binge drinking doesn’t mean a person has an alcohol use disorder (or AUD, the diagnostic term used to describe alcoholism or alcohol addiction), a woman’s chance of developing one is significantly increased with binge or heavy drinking.5

In 2019, 4% of the overall female population and 8% of women between the ages of 18 and 25 had an AUD.1 The younger a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to become addicted. 5 One survey indicates that 1 in 5 girls and teenagers (aged 12 to 20) report that they’ve had at least 1 drink in the past month.5 Another survey reported that 32% of high school girls consumed alcohol, as compared with 26% of their male peers. Sadly, alcohol abuse is responsible for more than 27,000 deaths in girls and women each year.1

How Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently Than Men?

Women who drink may not be aware that alcohol affects their bodies differently than men and often in more harmful ways. Women are more likely than men to experience long-term negative health effects from excessive alcohol use.1 This occurs for a number of physiological and psychological reasons. For one, their bodies contain less water and more fat than men’s bodies.6 Since fat does not absorb alcohol, women absorb more alcohol pound for pound than men do and end up with a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC).6

alcoholism vs problem drinking

women and alcohol

Effects of Alcohol Use on Women

In general, for both men and women, chronic drinking carries with it an increased risk of long-term detrimental health effects. However, research has shown that women have a higher chance of developing alcohol-related health issues, both earlier and at lower levels of use than men do.10 Below are some ways in which alcohol use, abuse and alcoholism can affect women’s mental and physical health.

Risk Factors that May Contribute to AUD in Women

Many risk factors influence the development of AUD in both men and women such as genetic factors like a family history of alcoholism.19

Another risk factor is how early in life a person starts drinking.20 The risk of developing an AUD at some point in life quadruples for those who start drinking on or before age 14 versus age 18, and the factors motivating a person to start drinking differ based on sex.21 Adolescent boys are more likely to be influenced by risk-taking behaviors and girls more likely to consume alcohol for its anxiety-reducing properties.21

Alcohol Addiction Treatment for Women

While traditional alcoholism treatment doesn’t typically place importance on gender differences that can factor into addiction, some evidence shows that treatment that better supports women struggling with alcoholism may be more effective. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that gender-related substance abuse treatment must consider not just biological differences but also social and environmental factors, as women are more likely to suffer from certain life circumstances than men.22

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Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction it’s important to know that there is help available. Evidence-based addiction treatment can help you achieve recovery. Many rehabs also offer speciality programs tailored for the unique needs women may experience when struggling with addiction. If you’re seeking addiction treatment, you may consider reaching out to your doctor. They may be able to help determine your medical needs and could refer you to a suitable rehab facility.

Additionally, you may consider reaching out to an addiction helpline. American Addiction Centers (AAC) owns and operates a 24/7 addiction helpline. Our admissions navigators can help answer your questions about women’s addiction treatment programs, help you locate suitable rehab centers, and help to verify your insurance. Reach out to us today at to get started.