eNewsletter - March 2024

Women and Alcohol Use 
by Anneliese Pipitone, LSW

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this year Endeavor Health Linden Oaks Hospital is specifically raising awareness of alcohol misuse in women. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), alcohol use and misuse are increasing in women. While alcohol misuse by anyone can cause serious issues and health concerns, research shows women who drink have a higher risk of alcohol-related problems compared to men. 

Alcohol affects men and women differently. Due to a difference in body chemistry, studies show that women start to have alcohol-related problems sooner and at lower drinking quantities than men. On average, women weigh less than men. Additionally, women tend to have less water in their bodies than men. Because alcohol resides predominantly in body water, a woman’s blood alcohol concentration will be higher than a man’s, despite drinking the same amount of alcohol, putting her at greater risk of harm.    

Physical consequences of alcohol misuse: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are impacted by lower levels and fewer years of alcohol consumption than men. The risk of cirrhosis, cognitive decline, and even heart damage related to alcohol use are greater for women than men.  Additionally, the CDC has found that alcohol consumption increases the risk of several different cancers, and, in women, is associated with breast cancer.

The role of mental health and psychosocial factors: According to the NIAA, trauma, stress levels, and other psychosocial factors have a direct correlation to alcohol misuse and the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in individuals. The NIAA specifically states women are more likely than men to experience certain types of stressors, such as sexual trauma, and that women demonstrate a significantly “more rapid and risk-oriented path to compulsive drug seeking.” Because women are often exposed to more high-impact trauma (e.g., sexual abuse) than men are, and at a younger age, they have an increased vulnerability toward alcohol misuse and AUD in particular. 

Challenges of seeking treatment: Historically, women with alcohol use disorder have been an underserved population. In the United States, more than 5 million adult women, or 4.2% of the adult female population, meet criteria for AUD. Treatment barriers can include both internal and external factors, such as individuals not seeing a need for treatment or fearing the stigma around seeking help, needing to arrange childcare and fearing consequences from DCFS, socioeconomic factors, and more. 

More on unique barriers that impact women: It is important for providers to take into account the differences between men and women and the unique factors and barriers women face related to alcohol misuse. Being conscious of these differences can improve women’s treatment experience, even if they are not in a women’s only program, or a program with specific tracks focused on gender differences in alcohol use and misuse disorders. Because many women have many external factors guiding their decisions and ability to seek treatment, it is important to provide both physical treatment settings and treatment methods that cater to their unique needs. 

Finding more support with Endeavor Health Linden Oaks Hospital. Endeavor Health Linden Oaks Hospital is available to discuss treatment options for any type or level of behavioral health care. For more information on programs Endeavor Health Linden Oaks Hospital offers, call our 24/7 help line at 630-305-5027.