Alcohol and Women

Having a conversation about…… Women and Alcohol

So are us women drinking more?
Broadly yes…..studies in Western countries over the last twenty years or so, show that a greater proportion of women are drinking regularly, and are also consuming more.

Well why shouldn’t we be able to have a drink just like you guys!!….we’re just as equal!
Indeed so; none of us would want to go back to my grans’ day . . .d’you know my grandfather would give my gran her housekeeping money, and that was definitely not for going down the pub or offy with, even if she’d be welcomed there!!

Yes…attitudes and social acceptances have changed, however our old friend alcohol has chosen not to treat you equally!

No?…….how so?
OK…and without getting too technical…this is how it goes-………..

Every individual is affected by alcohol to a greater or lesser extent…

Yeah! I can see that.
Things that can affect us are, say…our age, our health… our family history, our genetic make-up and even time since we last ate!! But one of the greater factors is our height and weight, and what the medical people call physiology!

So, you’re saying, on average, as we girls tend to be smaller, we’re more effected?
Across the board yes, but it’s not as simple as just that…. all other things being equal, a man and a woman of the same height and weight would still not be affected equally.

I just knew you were going to say that! So what’s the other stuff?
Well, biologically men and women are different……you can see that.

Of course, but how would that make any difference?
For a start, pound for pound the female body contains more fatty tissue and less water. Alcohol tends to be absorbed by fat….and diluted by water……so alcohol can remain in the female body for longer and at a greater concentration… it hangs round longer in the brain and the internal organs.

Hmmm…seems to make sense…any more stuff?
Yep!…..the female body also has lower levels of certain enzymes, the two that count in this instance are called alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase!

Well are you a smarty!!…. So what does that mean?
Well what these enzymes do, is break down and make safer the alcohol in the stomach and the liver, so having less of them means alcohol is broken down more slowly…and more stays around in the bloodstream for longer…..and can do more damage!

Wow! Any more……?
Hormones………….studies have shown that changes in certain chemicals in the body when you have your monthly period can affect the way alcohol is absorbed and dealt with by the body.

And I suppose there is a whole load of stuff around pregnancy??
Too true……for a start there’s foetal alcohol syndrome which can cause babies to be underweight and a load of other stuff, I’ve listened them under the “Alcohol and your health page” so take a good look there.

I will for sure……so a similar amount of alcohol can affect us girls much more harmfully than you guys? Any other inequalities while you’re at it?
Yeah! There are two that stand out.

And these are…………………….
Well, firstly, studies show that adults that were exposed to mental, sexual and physical abuse in childhood can be vulnerable to alcohol or drug problems in adulthood. Unfortunately these studies also show that, especially around sexual and physical abuse, females are more vulnerable…….and also shame and pressure to supress and not seek help can increase that vulnerability.

Hey…now you come to think of it….that fits a couple of people I know!
And that leads me on to access to treatment……..and this is a bit of a story…..

No go ahead……I’m interested.
Well, back in the dim and distant past Alcohol was seen by the Health Services as mainly a male problem, and when you look at published stuff in the 50’s and 60’s it was very much male centric! And around this time when treatment was coming into being, replacing the “just pull yourself together,and just stop and get down to AA” school of treatment……no, I’m digressing!

No no!…go on..
Well….. the earlier public clinics and so on were kinda designed around this “male problem” and in one way it created a culture and a perception that persisted long after the percentage of women having problems was increasing. Services had changed however, to be totally inclusive to everyone…..but for some the perception remains……..and that can be a big barrier……and there’re other things…….

Well there’s the whole thing around children…….k’now having your children taken from you…..

Does that happen?
Well read the bit on this website about it and make your own mind up!

Yeah sure, I suppose there’s more fear of that happening than ever happens?
That’s about it, but again…. that fear creates reluctance to seek help….and there’s other things that can get in the way…..such as access to childcare to undergo treatment, particularly residential or time intensive programmes……and apart from some peer led groups, virtually no “women only” programmes where specific circumstances and problems can be tackled……unless you pay for it!

Yeah, I suppose culture can be important too……I remember some from a course I did….
Yes indeed, in some cultures, and even some age groups, where drinking alcohol by males is acceptable, female drinking is not tolerated or certainly frowned upon… any problem tends to be driven underground.

So…what’s happening to solve these problems?
Well, enormous strides have been seen, extended opening times have made it easier, and, as they have always done, the Alcohol Services will try to cater for childcare and family issues. More Peer Support Workers and Volunteers, who have been there themselves and arenow in recovery, are helping overcome negativeperceptions as well as supporting, and more Women’s and Family and Carers groups have been formed.

Some things and attitudes just take time don’t they?
Getting professional advice and help is a good move, you’re GP is one option, however there are specialised alcohol services that offer free to access, confidential advice and treatment.

You can phone them for confidential advice or, to make an appointment, and there are certain times you can just drop in.

For those that are working or unavailable daytime, there’re also out of hours clinics.

See this website for information on treatment and links to Alcohol Services.