Facts about alcohol consumption for women


Facts about alcohol consumption for women

Updated March 2023 | 4 min read
Based on article first published by Hello Sunday Morning

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

Women may not drink as much alcohol as men – 13% of men drink three to four days per week compared with 9% of women – but women’s alcohol consumption has increased rapidly over the past 10 years – and they’re catching up to men.

In 2020, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released the revised Australian alcohol guidelines, which say that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.

Yet many people aren’t sticking to that amount. A 2022 Australian study found that long-term risky drinking and risky single-occasion drinking have increased among middle-aged women.

Other research shows women are more likely to drink to cope with stress than men and, in women aged 30 to 50 years, alcohol represents a time and space away from caring for others and the grind of domestic duties, allowing them to relax and unwind.

Alcohol consumption affects women differently than men, and has an impact on everything from their heart health to fertility. Here are the facts about women and drinking, and some tips on how to have a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Fact 1: Alcohol affects women more quickly than men

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 2: Women are more vulnerable to serious health issues than men

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 their organs are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women who drink a high volume of alcohol 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. In Australia, up to one in 10 instances of breast cancer is related to drinking according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation and women who drink just three standard drinks per week have a 15% higher chance of developing breast cancer than those who don't drink at all.

Fact 3: Alcohol may affect fertility

Because there’s no scientifically proven ‘safe’ amount of alcohol exposure for a foetus, 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 several weeks without knowing it, not drinking removes the risks of foetal complications.

This is also true for men. 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 we know isn’t good for us (chocolate cake, watching 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, better-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 two alcohol-free days a week.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
  • Follow health guidelines and don’t drink more than four drinks in a day.
  • Limit the amount of 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.

Change your relationship with alcohol

Reset drinking habits with the Daybreak app*, Hello Sunday Morning’s online behaviour-change program. It gives you access to 24/7 digital support. The program connects you anonymously with a like-minded online community trying to change their relationship with alcohol.

The Daybreak app is fully subsidised by the Australian Department of Health, which means all Australians get free access.

Download the Daybreak app on the App Store or Google Play.

Eligible HCF members^ may also have access to additional mental health support, including a free HealthyMinds Check-in. This telehealth session connects you to a PSYCH2U psychologist who will support you in your mental health journey.

You can also access This Way Up*, which offers a range of evidence-based online treatment programs.

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

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

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* This service is not affiliated or associated with HCF in any way. You should make your own enquiries to determine whether this service is suitable for you. If you decide to use this service, it'll be on the basis that HCF won't be responsible, and you won't hold HCF responsible, for any liability that may arise from that use.

^ 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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