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Alcohol Can Have a Big Impact on Women’s Health

Many people like to drink alcohol to relax or connect with others. Almost half of adult women say they have had a drink in the past month, and 13% of women say they binge drink occasionally.  But medical research is showing that even moderate alcohol use can cause more negative health impacts for women than for men. According to the CDC, women are at greater risk for negative health effects of drinking, even if they drink less than men.

Alcohol Affects Women Differently than Men

Even though men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume larger amounts, the differences in men’s and women’s bodies cause alcohol to affect women differently. Biological differences between men and women, like body structure and chemistry, lead most women to absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it. The effects of alcohol usually occur more quickly and last longer in women than men. These differences increase the long-term negative health effects of alcohol in women, compared with men.

In Women, Alcohol is Associated with Diseases, Injuries, and Harms

  • Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Brain: Alcohol-related cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain develop more quickly for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Heart: Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men.
  • Breast and Other Cancers: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. In women, drinking is also associated with breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.

Drinking Less Can Lead to Better Health

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 1 drink or less in a day, on days when alcohol is consumed. The guidelines also do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason, and that if adults of legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

There is No Known Safe Amount of Alcohol Use During Pregnancy

There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.

Alcohol can cause problems for the developing baby throughout pregnancy. Drinking alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy can cause the baby to have abnormal facial features. Growth and central nervous system problems (e.g., low birthweight, behavioral problems) can occur from drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy. The baby’s brain is developing throughout pregnancy and can be affected by exposure to alcohol at any time.

If a person is drinking alcohol during pregnancy, it is never too late to stop. The sooner a woman stops drinking, the better it will be for both her baby and herself.

Drinking and The Pandemic

Many people drink more when they are going through a stressful situation. The COVID-19 pandemic was stressful for many women, particularly those who were greatly affected by lost childcare and employment. As a result, we are seeing a large effect of the pandemic on women’s alcohol use. According to a RAND Corporation study, during the pandemic, women have increased their heavy drinking days by 41% compared to before the pandemic. If the pandemic has affected how much you drink, now might be a good time to learn ways to cut back.