The Impact of Alcoholism on Women’s Bodies

An Overview of Alcohol Consumption Among Young Women

Excessive consumption of alcohol regularly leads to health and psychological issues among men and women. However, the focus of this blog will be the impact of alcoholism on women’s bodies (inclusive of psychological, social, and economic consequences).

According to a 2019 study, 13% of women reported binge drinking at least 4 times a month, consuming more than 5 drinks per binge. Thirty-two percent “(32%) of female high school students consumed alcohol compared to 26% of male high school students. Binge drinking was more common among female than male high school students.”

Alcohol Impacts Women’s Bodies Differently than Men’s

In general, adult men consume more alcohol than women. That statement is misleading. Women absorb alcohol more quickly into their bodies than men and then take longer to metabolize it. Additionally, the effects of alcohol on women’s bodies occur more rapidly and last longer. A variety of diseases (to be discussed) are associated with women and alcoholism. Still, abuse of alcohol by women has a profound disruptive influence on “the menstrual cycle, reproductive function and alters hormone levels in postmenopausal women[… all of these have consequences for bone health].

Alcohol as a substance use disorder (SUD) is a worldwide issue. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-related deaths are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. 

Heavy drinking (or excessive alcohol consumption) is linked to:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Liver disease
  • Metabolic disturbances
  • Cancer of the mouth, stomach, colon, liver, and breast
  • Neurological disorders, fetal abnormalities, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • Memory loss
  • Psychological problems
  • Social and Financial problems

The alcohol in the system influences every organ of the body because the messages to and from the brain are altered. The consequences of alcohol in the body mean breathing can be diminished, heart rate varied, and blood circulation impeded and miscommunication from cells about everything that allows the body to respond to external and internal environments. Furthermore, alcoholism and alcohol abuse interfere with the endocrine system, the nervous system, and the body’s ability to communicate information to maintain a “constant internal environment also called homeostasis. 

Women become addicted more quickly, and they suffer more significant health issues. For women, these health issues arise more rapidly because of the volume of alcohol (concerning the size of the body, the body mass, the water content, etc.) consumed by the body. On a social level, women who drink excessively are more likely to have accidents and suffer from sexual violence, including intimate partner violence.

In incidents of sexual violence among college-age women, alcohol, though not the cause, was a factor. Fifty percent (50%) of college women have been sexually assaulted, and 27% have experienced rape. Alcohol use among perpetrators ranged from 34%-74%. Half of the sexual assault victims reported drinking at the time of the assault. 

  • “Women are socialized to be polite and indirect, especially regarding sexual communication, which often makes it difficult to directly confront a partner.
  • Sexual assault perpetrators are also more likely to:
    • endorse traditional gender stereotypes, which include the belief that men are responsible for initiating sex and women are responsible for setting the limits
    • endorse statements that justify rape, for example, “’No” means “yes’” and “women enjoy forced sex”
    • hold adversarial beliefs about relationships between men and women and to consider the use of force in interpersonal relationships acceptable.”

Alcohol blurs one’s perception of right and wrong often leading young women to blame themselves for the abuse.

Alcohol and Psychological Issues

Alcohol is considered a depressant of the central nervous system. Over many years, studies have found that alcoholics experience high rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms. According to Alcohol Health and Research World, recent studies reveal an association between alcohol dependence and independent anxiety/depressive disorders.  

“Given the broad range of effects heavy drinking may have on psychological function, these alcohol-induced disorders span several categories of mental disorders, including mood, anxiety, psychotic, sleep, sexual, delirious, amnestic, and dementia disorders. According to the DSM–IV, ( a diagnostic manual published by the American Medical Association), the essential feature of all these alcohol-induced disorders is the presence of prominent and persistent symptoms, which are judged—based on their onset and course as well as on the patient’s history, physical exam, and laboratory findings—to be the result of the direct physiological effects of alcohol.”

A woman is more likely to abuse alcohol if

  • Parents, siblings have a problem
  • Spouse has an alcohol problem
  • Unable to manage stress, and exhaustion
  • A history of trauma, childhood physical or sexual abuse

Symptoms of Alcohol use disorder (SUD)

  • Unable to limit alcohol consumption
  • Binge drinking
  • Spending a great deal of time drinking or looking for alcohol
  • Disregarding significant obligations, family, friends, school, work
  • Changing standard behavioral patterns to be able to drink
  • Blacking out
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Hiding your drinking
  • Health problems
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Stages of Alcoholism

  • Pre-Alcoholic: drink to feel better, drink to dull stress or pain, drink to stop worrying or manage anxiety
  • Early Alcoholic: Drink more than you plan, blackout drinking (cannot remember what you did or said), think obsessively about alcohol
  • Alcoholism: Miss normal daily obligations, irritable if you do not get multiple drinks, health problems, stomach issues, sleep problems, changes in weight
  • Late Stage Alcoholism: Your life revolves around getting a drink. You have developed severe health conditions (liver problems etc.), and you still choose to drink, relationships have been seriously damaged, and financial problems occur.

It should be noted that a person can cycle through the first few stages of alcoholism repeatedly. It can take years before alcohol becomes the master, or it can happen rapidly. A person may stop drinking in the early stages of alcoholism and suffer moderate withdrawal symptoms. However, with repetitive withdrawals from alcohol and relapsing back to use again, the worse the addiction becomes and the more challenging the withdrawals. 

Treatment Works and Can Help You Regain Your Life

If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, it is crucial that you get help immediately. A medically supervised detox is essential. In the later stages of alcoholism, it is necessary as withdrawal from alcohol can cause death. Treatment after detox is needed as detox is not a substitute for treatment. Call now to find out how Coastal Detox can help you regain your life and break the cycle of alcoholism

References:

Connor Barton
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