HealthAgenda

Physical Health

Facts about alcohol consumption for women

Everything women need to know about having a healthy relationship with alcohol.

While alcohol intake for women may not be as much as men, their alcohol consumption has increased rapidly over the past 10 years – and they're catching up to the boys.

One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been an increase in how much we drink at home and how often we drink.

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian National University suggests women are using alcohol to cope with COVID-related stress, more than men. The study found almost 32% of women increased their alcohol use during lockdown, compared to around 22% of men.

‘I tend to crave alcohol when I’m stressed, which as a working mum of three happens a fair bit,’ says Natalie*, who once struggled with drinking too much.

Women reported an increase in housework, childcare and home schooling, and caring for others, which coincided with their drinking more. These findings suggest women are using alcohol to help combat feelings of anxiety during periods of high stress or uncertainty.

Here we look at the facts about women and alcohol and how we can learn to be healthier.

FACT: Women get drunk faster

The female body can’t break down alcohol as quickly as the male body, which means when you drink the same as your husband, boyfriend or brother, you will have higher levels of alcohol in your blood.

There are scientific reasons for this. Firstly, women produce smaller quantities of the enzyme in the body that breaks down alcohol. Secondly, water helps disperse alcohol around the body, and women have lower levels of water in their bodies than men.

Combined, these two factors can lead to a higher blood alcohol concentration for women when they drink the same amount as even a similarly sized man.

FACT: Women are more vulnerable to serious health issues

Men have higher death rates than women when it comes to alcohol–related liver disease, but liver damage can happen more quickly in women. Scientists believe this may be because women have less water in their bodies, so organs are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol.

Alcoholic women are also more vulnerable than men to damage of the heart muscle and nerve damage after fewer years of heavy drinking than alcoholic men.

Alcohol may also increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including breast cancer. Women who drink just 3 standard drinks per week have a 15% higher chance of developing breast cancer than those who do not drink at all.

FACT: Alcohol may affect fertility

Because there’s no scientifically proven “safe” amount of alcohol exposure to an unborn baby, health guidelines say it’s best to avoid alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

Even light drinking may increase the time it takes to fall pregnant and because many women are pregnant for many weeks without knowing it, not drinking removes the risks of foetal complications.

This is also true for the boys. Too much alcohol can affect a man’s chance of successful conception, as research shows it can slow and even damage healthy sperm. So, if a baby is on the cards, support each other by pressing pause on drinking altogether.

How to drink in a healthy way

It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to read these facts and never drink again. There are many ways to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, without experiencing any of the negative side effects that come with prolonged, excessive drinking.

As with anything else we know isn’t good for us (chocolate, chips, binging on Netflix until 2am) moderation and balance is the key to staying well.

Focusing on the positives of not drinking in excess – like lower risk of disease, better mental health, quality sleep and a healthy weight – can help make cutting back a little easier.

Here are some tips to maintaining a well-balanced relationship with alcohol:

  • aim for at least 2 alcohol-free days a week
  • alternate alcoholic drinks with water
  • follow health guidelines and don’t drink more than 4 drinks in a day
  • limit how much alcohol you have in the house
  • set a time – say 7pm – and don’t drink before that deadline
  • instead of meeting friends at a pub or bar, suggest activities that don’t focus on drinking.

*Name has been changed.

Change your relationship with alcohol

HCF has partnered with non-profit Hello Sunday Morning to give members free access to to additional services offered by the Daybreak app - an anonymous alcohol support program. HCF and Hello Sunday Morning aspire to change members' relationship with alcohol. The Daybreak program has been enhanced to provide a unique offering to members, which includes support from health coaches⁺. 

We can help connect our members to the right support for their mental wellbeing with our mental health programs.

Where to find more help for alcohol support, counselling and information:  

If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Log in to get started
Words by Hello Sunday Morning
Updated May 2021

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