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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on September 14, 2023
7 min read

The Relationship Between Women and Alcohol

Alcohol abuse affects everyone negatively, but it is especially detrimental to women. Stress plays a significant role in starting and sustaining alcohol use, and women are more prone to stress than men.8

Stress is strongly connected to all phases of alcohol addiction, including:

  • When the drinking starts
  • Maintenance of drinking
  • Relapse after quitting drinking

Women are also more prone to developing mental health disorders throughout their life. The most common is co-occurring depression with anxiety.

How Does Alcohol Affect Women Differently Than Men?

Women absorb more alcohol and reach a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than men because of biological differences. They weigh less and have less water in their bodies.

Essentially, this means they can get intoxicated much faster, and it’ll take longer for them to metabolize alcohol. Women are then at greater risk of developing alcohol-related disorders when drinking heavily. 

Research shows potential health consequences are higher when a woman has an alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy drinking is linked to more than 27,000 female deaths annually.3,7


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Causes of Alcoholism in Women

No formula of factors causes alcoholism in women, but women are more likely to develop AUD than men because of how their bodies process alcohol. Women experience alcohol use disorder for different reasons.

Some of the most common reasons women drink too much and/or develop AUD include:

  • Stress
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Social pressure
  • Low self-confidence
  • Environmental factors

Symptoms of Alcoholism in Women

Over-indulging is riskier for women and is cause for concern for many people.

Symptoms of alcoholism in women include:

  • Frequent bouts of excessive drinking
  • Absenteeism from work or school
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Increasing tolerance of alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol in risky situations
  • Drinking alone
  • Neglecting health and hygiene
  • Driving after drinking
  • Blacking out or losing time
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Lack of appetite
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Personality or mood changes

Side Effects of AUD on Women

Drinking too much alcohol also causes physical side effects. Some of the health issues women experience when they have AUD include:

  • Morning shaking
  • Frequent nausea
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  • Flushed face
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
  • Signs of malnutrition

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What Does Alcohol Abuse Do to a Woman’s Body?

Women may experience long-term alcohol-related health issues due to alcohol abuse. Women who drink heavily and abuse alcohol should understand these risks and seek support or treatment when necessary.

Some health risks associated with alcohol abuse include:

Liver Disease & Damage

Long-term alcohol use is strongly associated with serious health risks in both sexes. However, women with AUD have a higher risk of developing alcohol-related liver injuries like cirrhosis and hepatitis.1,3

Heart Disease

Women already have a higher risk of heart disease, which increases even more with excessive use of alcohol. Long-term alcohol abuse is a primary cause of heart disease in women, even those who consume less alcohol than men.1,3

Brain Damage

Brain damage develops faster for women who abuse alcohol than for men. Excessive alcohol use disrupts normal brain development, so it’s especially risky for teenage and young adult women.

One study showed that teenage girls who binge drink showed less brain activity. They also performed worse on memory tests than their male peers.1

Binge drinking also negatively impacted their decision-making abilities. Women tend to black out more than men when drinking excessively and experience more frequent memory gaps.1

Breast Cancer

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer for women.3 It also increases the risk of other alcohol-related cancers like throat or liver cancer.

Evidence shows that women who drink one alcoholic beverage daily increase their risk of breast cancer by nearly 10%.1 The risk increases if they frequently drink heavily or binge drink.

Alcohol and Medication

Alcohol consumption negatively impacts women who are using certain medications. You should abstain from alcohol if you are using any of the following:

  • Sleeping pills
  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Other sedative medications

Mixing medications and alcohol can also lead to a dangerous cycle of drug abuse, potentially resulting in drug and alcohol dependence.14

Pregnancy and Alcohol

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy puts a developing baby at risk. Any exposure to alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of cognitive, physical, and behavioral issues after birth.

Babies exposed to alcohol in utero are at risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) like fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Both conditions can cause the child to have symptoms such as:

  • Physical disabilities or deformities
  • Slow physical growth
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Poor judgment and decision-making skills
  • Poor social skills
  • Behavioral and impulsive control problems

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage and preterm labor. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol completely.


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Women and Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is the act of consuming a significant amount of alcohol in a short period. For women, binge drinking is known as consuming four or more drinks in less than a 2-hour timeframe.

Binge drinking is becoming an epidemic in clubs, bars, and college campuses. It is a steadily increasing problem for women.

Some of the most significant risks of binge drinking for women include:

  • Increased risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism
  • Liver damage
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Poor decision making
  • Susceptibility to sexual assault, physical abuse, and partner violence
  • Reckless and risky behavior
  • Legal problems, such as drinking and driving
  • Poor financial decisions
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Death

Link Between Anxiety and Alcoholism in Women

Alcohol can increase the likelihood of anxiety or worsen it. Women are more prone to anxiety than men. Anxiety disorders also develop in women earlier than they do in men.5

The reason women are more prone to anxiety than men may be related to differences in brain chemistry. For example, a woman’s fight-or-flight response is more active than a man’s. This response also stays activated longer, partly related to higher estrogen and progesterone levels.5

Meanwhile, alcohol can worsen anxiety by changing the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters are responsible for balancing mood, feelings, and emotions.5

How Common Is Alcoholism Among Women?

Nearly half of adult women report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. Approximately 13% of female adults report binge drinking, and 25% do so weekly.3,13

In one study, women who experienced two or more stressful events in the last year were four times more likely to develop alcoholism. Men with the same experiences were 2.5 times more likely to develop alcoholism.8

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) rates have increased in women by 84% over the last 10 years. In men, AUD rates have risen by 34%.8

Treatment Options for Excessive Alcohol Consumption

There are several treatment options available for women with AUD. There are also online resources like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help you understand alcoholism and its dangers.

However, it’s important to understand that people respond to addiction treatment differently. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment programs that best suit your needs.

Available treatment programs include:

  • Inpatient treatment programs: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for 24-hour medical supervision 
  • Outpatient treatment programs: A treatment program where you are freely allowed to leave the rehab facility
  • Medication-assisted therapy: Involves using medication, counseling, and therapy to treat addiction
  • 12-step programs: Support groups that follow a 12-step process designed to help guide individuals through the recovery process and maintain sobriety
  • Family counseling: Counseling that allows you to explore the link between family-related issues and alcoholism
  • Individual or group therapy: Therapy sessions that help you discuss your experiences and issues through 1-on-1 sessions or in a group setting

Understanding AUD’s roots and treating other conditions or mental health issues is essential to successful recovery. It’s also important to have the support of family and friends during treatment and recovery. 


Although alcohol abuse can negatively affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or race, women are more susceptible to its harmful effects. Women’s bodies absorb alcohol faster and metabolize it slower.

Because alcohol stays in a woman’s body longer, they can experience the adverse effects of alcohol with fewer drinks. It also makes them more intoxicated faster. Women who have developed an alcohol dependence are also more likely to develop anxiety.

Updated on September 14, 2023
11 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Women and Alcohol.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2023.
  2. “Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism).”, 2019.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Women’s Health” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  4. “Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage.” Al-Anon Family Groups, 2015.
  5. “Facts.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2021.
  6. Lander et al. “The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice.” Soc Work Public Health, 2013.
  7. Excessive Alcohol Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  8. MacKenzie et al. “Sex differences in stress-related alcohol use.” Neurobiology of Stress, 2019.
  9. Kendler et al. “Effect of Marriage on Risk for Onset of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Longitudinal and Co-Relative Analysis in a Swedish National Sample. Am J Psychiatry. 2016.
  10. Goh et al. “Gender Differences in Alcohol Use: a Nationwide Study in a Multiethnic Population.” Int J Ment Health Addiction, 2022.
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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