Heavy Drinking More Deadly for Women

Heavy Drinking More Deadly for WomenDoctors and public health officials know that alcohol affects women and men in different ways. Specifically, women who drink have higher risks for certain serious health problems than their male counterparts; in addition, women who drink have unique health concerns not found in men. In a study review published in March 2014 in the Journal of Women’s Health, a team of Chinese researchers compared the death rates for women alcohol consumers to the death rates for men who drink. These researchers concluded that women drinkers die more often, especially when they participate in heavy drinking. Women process alcohol more slowly than men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This is true, in part, because women typically don’t weigh as much as men. However, it’s also true because, even when there aren’t weight differences, a relative lack of water in their bodies leads to higher blood-alcohol levels in the aftermath of alcohol consumption. In reflection of the differences between men and women, public health guidelines recommend that women drink less than men in order to stay within the acknowledged limits of moderate alcohol intake and avoid heavy drinking, a pattern of excessive consumption that (among other things) increases the chances that any given person will eventually experience the effects of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse).

Shared and Gender-Specific Risks

Even when they consume the same quantity of alcohol as men, women have an unusually high chance of developing a form of liver inflammation called alcoholic hepatitis; this is important, since alcoholic hepatitis can ultimately trigger the onset of serious liver scarring (a process known as cirrhosis). Among men and women who consume enough alcohol to qualify as chronic heavy drinkers, women have a heightened chance of developing heart problems stemming from alcohol intake (even though women heavy drinkers commonly consume less alcohol overall than their male counterparts). Two gender-specific alcohol-related health risks found in women are breast cancer and pregnancy complications.

Comparing Death Rates in Drinkers

In the study review published in the Journal of Women’s Health, researchers from China’s National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases analyzed the findings of 24 previous studies that looked at the relative death rates among men and women who consume alcohol. Specifically, the researchers looked at all-cause mortality rates, which don’t draw a distinction between the specific causes of death for people who die. All told, these studies included 1,473,899 men and 951,065 women. A total of 76,362 of the men under consideration died from one cause or another; a total of 47,516 of the women also died. After completing their analysis, the researchers concluded that, overall, women who drink alcohol are about 7 percent more likely to die during a given timeframe than men who drink. They also concluded that a woman’s chances of dying go up along with her habitual level of alcohol intake. For example, women who consume roughly five drinks per day die about 52 percent more often than their male counterparts, while women who consume roughly six drinks a day die about 95 percent more often. Women who consume close to seven drinks a day die fully 136 percent more often than their male counterparts. The authors of the study review published in the Journal of Women’s Health note that all of the women alcohol consumers under consideration with the highest chances of dying qualified as heavy drinkers. Based on these findings, they concluded that women drinkers in general and heavy-drinking women in particular are more likely to die from any and all causes than men who consume alcohol. The authors believe that women drinkers may need to reduce or entirely eliminate their alcohol intake in order to maintain their health and well-being. Current public health guidelines recommend that women keep their alcohol consumption below four drinks a day and eight drinks a week in order to avoid qualifying as heavy drinkers.  

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