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Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Mood-Altering Drugs

Women and Alcohol: Some Facts

Alcohol Affects Men and Women Differently

Women process alcohol differently than men, and tend, on the average, to be smaller than men. As a result we require much less alcohol than men to produce the same blood alcohol concentration or level of intoxication. For a detailed summary of the ways in which alcohol affects women differently than men, see Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol's Effects?

Alcohol and Women’s Bodies

Heavy drinking in women increases the risk of mouth cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, depression, hypertensive disease, stroke, and cirrhosis of the liver. For more information, see Alcohol: An Important Women’s Health Issue.

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Women who drink heavily during pregnancy may give birth to babies with a range of permanent birth defects and developmental disabilities. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities seen in children who were prenatally exposed to alcohol.

Since there is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy it is recommended that women avoid alcohol use at this time.  If it is difficult to completely stop, it is important to avoid heavy use (such as drinking a lot on one occasion, known as binge drinking). For more information, see:

Older women

Those of us who are in our 60s or older  may find ourselves more vulnerable to alcohol’s effects. For more information, see: 

Women-Centered Treatment

Treatment for alcohol and other drug problems can take many forms and no one method works for everyone. Formal treatment programs provide medical care, individual and group counseling, and a range of other support services to help you stop substance use, better understand yourself, learn better coping skills, and create support networks that will enable you to lead a healthy life. Programs that focus on the specific health, safety and empowerment needs of women, where available, may be particularly helpful.

The websites listed below can help you find treatment resources:

For an overview of drinking and when it is problematic, see Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue and Fact Sheet: Women and Alcohol.

Written by: Nancy Poole
Last revised: March 2005

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