Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States. National Public Radio reported that in the United States, a growing number of women are struggling with alcoholism. But who suffers more from the disease — men or women?
According to the National Institutes of Health, severe problem drinking is diagnosed as alcohol use disorder, or AUD. Approximately 17 million adults age 18 and older had an AUD in 2012. This includes 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women.
About 7-12 percent of women abuse alcohol, compared with 20 percent of men, wrote Harvard Medical School. But according to research, this gender gap has been narrowing since the 1970s. Since then women drinking alcohol has become more socially acceptable.
For the most part, men drink to be social. Women do as well, but when they start to have problems with alcohol, they are often drinking to become numb — drinking to escape loneliness, anxiety or depression. And women suffer a lot more depression than men do said author Ann Dowsett Johnston, during an interview on NPR.
However, men are more likely than women to become addicts. In 2008, the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 11.5 percent of males ages 12 and older had a substance abuse or dependence problem, compared with 6.4 percent of females, as reported by Harvard.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that a percentage of both genders will meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. They said it would be about 17 percent of men and about 8 percent of women.
Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and drink it in larger amounts, it doesn’t affect them the same way that it affects women. Body structure and chemistry make alcohol affect women much differently.
There are several biological factors that make women more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. First, women tend to weigh less than men and comparatively, women’s bodies contains less water and more fatty tissue than men’s. Fat tends to hold on more to alcohol, while water dilutes it. This causes women’s organs to experience a greater exposure to alcohol.
When men and women drink the same amount, women will have higher alcohol levels in their blood than men. In addition, the immediate effects occur more quickly and last longer.
Women also tend to move more quickly from simply using an addictive substance to becoming dependent on it. And they develop medical or social consequences of addiction faster than men. Plus, women often find it harder to quit using addictive substances, and are therefore more susceptible to relapse.
Addiction in Women - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
"Alcohol Use Disorder." Alcohol Use Disorder. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
"Drinking To 'Numb,' Women Gain On Men In Alcohol Abuse." NPR. NPR. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
"Fact Sheets - Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men's Health." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
"Fact Sheets - Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women's Health." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Reviewed April 23, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith