A Look at Alcohol Use Disorders Among Women
Alcohol substance use disorder, or simply alcoholism, is a highly manageable physical and mental condition if prompt and correct treatment is initiated and maintained. While it is highly preventable, it remains as the third leading cause of highly preventable deaths in the US accounting for about 26,000 deaths every year often as a result of untreated alcoholism. One of the inherent problems of this dismal statistics is the social stigma associated with women who are known alcoholics. As such, even if the alcoholism is already showing its toll on the woman, she will keep silent, opting instead to weather the storm on her own. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well every time.
Alcoholism in both men and women typically follow a similar pattern. However, owing to physiologic differences, women tend to suffer the effects of chronic alcoholism a lot quicker than do men. They only need sufficiently fewer amounts of alcohol to elicit substantially greater or more severe physiologic reactions.
Women tend to drink alcohol as a means to manage their stress. Some drink because of peer pressure while a great number of women drink simply because their partners have substantial drinking problems as well. Any woman who consumes more than three drinks daily is at an increased risk for becoming an alcoholic or developing alcohol use disorder.
Side Effects of Alcohol in Women
The physiologic differences between the bodies of men and women account for the differences in the recommended alcohol allowances for both sexes. While it may seem as if the RAAs favor men in that they are given a slightly higher allowance for alcohol consumption, the reason is more physiologic than it is a matter of policy. Women typically absorb alcohol and metabolize ethanol a lot faster than men and as such will often experience the side effects of alcohol much faster and with greater severity than men at the same dose.
Nevertheless, here are the most common adverse effects of chronic alcohol consumption by women.
- Cognitive impairments – Alcohol is a known depressant and as such it slows down the different physiologic processes in the brain. Studies show that the most commonly affected region of the brain by alcohol is the left hemisphere where logic originates. Other cognitive impairments include memory deficits, slurred speech, and impaired learning.
- Risk for the development of breast cancer – Alcohol does not cause breast cancer. However, studies show it can increase the risk of developing breast carcinomas.
- Digestive problems – Two of the most common adverse reactions associated with chronic alcoholism are diarrhea and vomiting which can both lead to serious pH, electrolyte, and acid-base imbalance. Studies also show chronic alcoholism can also increase the risk of gastric cancers.
- Liver problems – Liver cirrhosis and alcoholic fatty liver disease are just two of the most common liver problems associated with prolonged alcohol consumption. This is not at all surprising since the liver is the primary organ that metabolizes alcohol. This increases the exposure of liver cells to the damaging effects of alcohol. Unfortunately, these problems usually manifest late in their stages and it would already be too late to save the liver or even the person’s life.
- Problems of the colon – Irritable bowel syndrome is very common in alcoholics leading to diarrhea which can, again, result in electrolyte imbalances. It may also increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Heart failure – Often a result of unrestricted chronic alcoholism, heart failure is often a reflection of liver involvement producing portal hypertension.
- Disorders of the pancreas – Alcoholism can lead to an inflammation of the pancreas which is the organ responsible for the production of insulin, a hormone necessary for glucose mobilization and fat storage. Destruction of pancreatic tissue can lead to diabetes.
Signs of Female Alcoholism
There are no significant differences in the signs of alcoholism between men and women. Except for the rapid onset of alcohol effects, the signs of alcohol use disorder are essentially the same and include the following.
- Consumes more than 3 drinks everyday
- Uses alcohol to relax, manage stress, and for everyday functioning
- Refuses to join activities that do not have access to alcohol
- Consumes too much alcohol even if there are inherent responsibilities that need to be accomplished
- Consuming alcohol even when the circumstances don’t call for it
- Drinks specifically to reduce depression or anxiety
- Attempts to stop drinking but fails
- Drinks even early in the morning
- Hides evidence of alcohol drinking
- Experiences withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of drinking alcohol
Implications of Alcoholism in Women’s Health
Alcoholism has significant implications to women’s health particularly their ability to conceive children. Studies show that alcohol use disorders can affect one’s ability to bear a child. Alcohol can affect the maturation of egg cells that are released during the period of ovulation. In many cases, the ovulation is either affected or ceases to function completely. A woman’s fertility is dependent on a delicate balance of female reproductive hormones. Regrettably, these hormones are adversely affected by alcohol.
The incidence of miscarriage among alcoholic women is also high. The young unborn is also affected through a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome in which the fetus experiences withdrawal symptoms once the mother stops drinking. Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. Because the fetus has been exposed to alcohol in intrauterine life, he or she may develop some life-altering health conditions once he or she is born.
Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to earlier menopause. Experts also say that excessive drinking can accelerate the aging process.
Making the Choice of the Best Alcohol Recovery Programs for Women
Because of the physiologic differences between men and women, it is essential to choose the best alcohol recovery program that is specifically designed for women. This guarantees the best possible treatment that also takes into consideration the female anatomy and physiology. It is equally important to look for alcohol recovery programs for women that are highly personalized to achieve the best possible treatment specific to one’s case.