Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States. About 7% to 12% of women abuse alcohol, compared with 20% of men. But research also suggests that since the 1970s, this gender gap has been narrowing, as drinking by women has become more socially acceptable.
This trend is concerning because women develop alcohol dependence more quickly than men do. Alcohol-related problems such as brain atrophy or liver damage also occur more rapidly in women than in men.
Several biological factors make women more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. First, women tend to weigh less than men, and — pound for pound — a woman’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue than a man’s. Because fat retains alcohol while water dilutes it, a woman’s organs sustain greater exposure.
In addition, women have lower levels of two enzymes — alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase — that break alcohol down in the stomach and liver. As a result, women absorb more alcohol into the bloodstream.
More information on Women and addiction can be found on the Harvard Mental Health Letter.