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Health Tips / Women and Alcohol

Women are much more likely to have a higher Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) than men and become intoxicated quicker than men after drinking the same amount of alcohol.

Women also retain a higher BAC for longer and research has shown that alcohol affects women differently than men.

A woman's body contains more fatty tissue and less water than a man's body. Alcohol is not absorbed into fatty tissue but remains more concentrated in the water portion of the body.

Women are often smaller than men. As a result the alcohol will be more concentrated in a woman's body, producing a higher BAC. In addition, women break-down alcohol more slowly than men do because they have lower concentration of alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme in their bodies. 

Some studies have suggested that women's estrogen levels can influence their BACs. Therefore, the response of women to alcohol may vary during the menstrual cycle and may be affected by the use of contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.

Due to these physiological differences between women and men, current health guidelines recommend that men may drink up to 21 units per week, while women are recommended to only drink a maximum of 14 units.

Some studies have shown that menopausal women may benefit from drinking moderate amounts of alcohol to reduce their risk of heart disease. However, due to a woman's poorer tolerance of alcohol, she is much more likely to develop health problems such as liver damage at lower levels of alcohol. It has been reported that heavy drinking for women can result in cirrhosis of the liver after 13 years as compared to 22 years for a man.

Other studies have shown that women who drink, in some cases even moderate amounts, are more likely to develop breast cancer and gynaecological problems than women who don't drink. The risk is considered to be higher for women who smoke and also take the contraceptive pill. 

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is a particular risk factor for the unborn child and is usually recommended by most medical professionals not to drink during pregnancy or at least restrict alcohol to just the occasional drink. Miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery and low birth weights have all been attributed to drinking large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. 

When women drink in excess of 10 units per day during pregnancy, their baby is at risk from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Babies who are born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome are mentally handicapped, with abnormal facial features and neurological, heart, bone and kidney defects to various degrees. 

Further information on Drinking is available at

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Last update: 16/05/2013 12:38 • Previous update: 30/11/-0001 00:00