Alcohol abuse can wreak havoc in every major organ and system in the body, regardless of who you are. But for women, alcoholism has its own set of unique problems that men simply do not often face.
In fact, alcohol and women have an entirely different relationship to each other. Namely, one which may be detrimental to fertility, pregnancy, and nursing, and may contribute to diseases most commonly found in women, such as breast cancer and osteoporosis.
The following are 6 ways in which alcohol and women do not “mix” well.
#1 Alcohol increases estrogen.
At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal. It’s only when you consider the possible results of increased estrogen that you realize what a big problem it can be. Too much estrogen in women OR men can cause a wealth of unwanted effects.
Simply put, alcoholism can alter the way in which a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen. This can cause blood estrogen levels to increase.
Higher levels of estrogen put a woman at increased risk for breast cancer. In fact, it is believed that every year, around 11,000 women will develop breast cancer which was ultimately caused by drinking alcohol.
It can also cause many relatively minor effects, such as:
- swelling and tenderness in the breasts
- decreased sex drive
- irregular menstrual periods or increased symptoms of PMS
- mood swings
- weight gain
- impaired memory
- insomnia/sleeping difficulties
#2 Alcohol increases the risk of osteoporosis.
Heavy drinking also has a negative affect on bones – especially during the adolescent and young adult years. It can greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Why? The main reason is because alcohol affects calcium, essentially robbing it from the bones. That is, the stomach, pancreas, and liver do not process it adequately.
Also, use of alcohol and women can cause high levels of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to a decrease in bone formation and increased bone deterioration.
And finally, excessive alcohol intake destroys osteoblasts, which are the cells which create bones. And to literally add insult to injury, chronic alcohol use can affect balance. Therefore, increasing the risk of falls and potential fractures and breakage of weakened bones.
#3 Alcohol decreases fertility.
While mild-moderate drinking may have little effect, heavy alcohol abuse can definitely harm fertility. It can increase the time it takes to get pregnant, and also reduce the chance of having a healthy baby.
The likelihood of heavy or irregular menstrual periods, miscarriage, and infertility is greater when the woman consumes alcohol above the recommended guidelines – which equates to about 1-2 drinks per day.
#4 Alcohol causes birth defects.
Any alcohol consumption is not deemed safe for pregnant women. However, the risk is greatest during the first trimester, and also when the woman is drinking heavily.
Alcohol consumption can have devastating consequences on the development of the fetal brain, and may lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Disorder, premature birth, and/or reduced birth weight.
Alcohol consumption and women, even low levels, can cause neurodevelopmental abnormalities in fetuses.
#5 Alcohol affects breast milk.
This may seem obvious, but let’s take a closer look at why.
First of all, the same amount of alcohol that makes it into the bloodstream (blood alcohol concentration) makes it into the breast milk.
You might think that one glass of wine is not much, but the baby’s tiny immature liver can’t process the alcohol as well as an adult. In fact, babies younger than 90 days process alcohol at only about half the adult rate.
In addition, alcohol consumption can affect the baby’s ability to eat and sleep. After the mother takes even a small drink, the baby may consume up to 20% less milk. And just like adults, alcohol makes them drowsy. However, also like adults, it affects the quality of their sleep, and they may sleep for a shorter amount of time.
It can also hinder their development. In a study of 400 babies, motor development at age 1 was behind others in infants whose mothers drank at least one drink a day during the first 3 months of their life.
#6 Alcohol is associated with sexual assault.
This may not directly be related to the women’s internal health, but it is certainly related to the woman’s physical safety and mental well-being.
It is certainly among the most disturbing and worrisome correlations between use of alcohol and women.
As a woman myself, I want to qualify this by saying that I do not think that because a women is drinking that she deserves to be assaulted. But the following is what I DO think.
In a study of victims of sexual assault, it was found that women who were drinking alcohol when the assault took place reported that intoxication lead to risky behavior that they would not have otherwise engaged in.
In another study, which surveyed 238 female undergraduate students, it was found that severely victimized women reported greater alcohol consumption and more positive views of alcohol than other women did, among other factors.
Moreover, alcohol is not an excuse for sexual assault, but it does appear to increase a woman’s risk, particularly if she is very intoxicated. And it makes sense – she is less capable of resisting unwanted advances, and more likely to put herself in situations which may lead to assault.
She may also be more likely to blame herself, and chalk it up to the fact that she was incapacitated, did not fight back, and may have little recollection. Therefore, she may regard the assault as not forced, but rather a situation of advantage.