Women and Alcohol Use
Drinking alcohol is a common social activity for many women. In fact, 76 percent of the women surveyed in the Canadian Addiction Survey reported drinking in the past year. However, we don’t always think about the possible risks that may be associated with drinking, nor understand that those risks are different for men and for women. Women’s vulnerability is influenced by: body size and composition, age, genetics, and both previous and current life circumstances and stressors. These factors influence the ways in which women respond to alcohol, and can act in combination to increase risk. There are also some very specific health risks associated with heavy drinking by women.
- Alcohol is the most common drug used by women, and its use is on the rise.
- Alcohol can decrease motor co‑ordination, judgment, emotional control, and reasoning power, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
- Women process alcohol differently than men do, and as a result, require much less alcohol than men to produce the same blood‑alcohol concentration or level of intoxication.
- Even low‑level alcohol use can disrupt normal menstrual cycles. Women with alcohol problems are at a higher risk for menstrual and reproductive disorders.
- Drinking can increase women’s risk for diseases such as certain cancers (e.g. breast cancer), major depression, heart disease, stroke, and cirrhosis of the liver. Women develop alcohol‑related liver disease after a shorter period of heavy drinking compared to men who are heavy drinkers.
- Women are also at increased risk of osteoporosis, brain shrinkage and impairment, breast cancer, gastric ulcers, and alcohol related liver disease compared to men.
There are some situations when alcohol consumption has increased risks. There are a number of risks to a developing baby if a woman drinks alcohol when pregnant. All drinks with alcohol can be harmful to a developing baby. Alcohol is in beer, wine, hard liquor, coolers and ciders. There is no known safe amount of alcohol, at any stage of pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioural, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications.
Refraining from drinking alcohol when you could become pregnant, when you are planning a pregnancy or if you are pregnant, is the safest option. Often women drink before they are aware they are pregnant, but it is important to know that it is never too late to stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
For more information about women and alcohol use, and for low‑risk drinking guidelines, click here.
There is no known safe time to drink and no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. The baby’s brain and nervous system develop throughout pregnancy.
It is never too late to quit or cut down.