Formerly, men in the West were the heaviest consumers of alcoholic beverages, as exemplified by Don Draper’s Mad Men colleagues who swigged from hidden brown liquor bottles, downed three martinis at lunch, and sipped Old Fashioneds in the office bar after hours, where few women dared to go.
Epidemiologists, however, have observed a steady shift in the booze imbalance, likely attributable to the increased marketing of alcohol to women and the shifting gender roles. Men are still nearly twice as likely as women to engage in binge drinking. However, this is not the case with the younger generation. Women born between 1991 and 2000 drink at the same rates as males, and they may even overtake men’s drinking rates in the future.
The Negative Consequences of Alcohol are Increasingly Being Felt By Females as Well.
From 2000-2015, the death rate from cirrhosis skyrocketed 57% among women 45-64 years old in the United States, compared to a 21% increase among men.
And whereas it fell by 10% among men in the same age range, it increased by 18% among women. Overdoses from alcohol are another leading cause of adult females visiting hospital emergency rooms. In addition, there has been an increase in particularly harmful drinking behaviours among women.
However, the increased prevalence of female alcohol consumption is only part of the issue. Scientists have discovered that women’s bodies respond to alcohol in ways that differ from men’s in ways that go beyond simple physical differences.
Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH) is an Enzyme that is Secreted by the Liver and is Responsible For Breaking Down Alcoholic Beverages.
Alcohol is retained by fat while dispersed by water. Since women already have larger levels of body fat and lower levels of bodily water, the effects of alcohol on their bodies are exacerbated.
“That vulnerability is why we detect increases in medical difficulties in women with alcohol-use disorders, compared to men,” says Dawn Sugarman, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and an addiction psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. (Check out our previous article Why do only certain people get blackout drunk?) to learn more about how alcohol affects various people’s bodies.
Additionally, women who drink to excess are more likely to have addiction and health problems than males. It’s called “telescoping,” and it explains why women who have problems with alcohol typically start drinking later in life than males do, but acquire an addiction to the substance far more quickly.
Liver disease, heart disease, and nerve damage all strike women more quickly than men. Differences in how alcohol affects the body depending on a person’s gender have just recently been uncovered. Example: in 1990, the first research on gender variations in ADH was published.
Until the 1990s, the vast majority of alcoholics clinical research only had male participants. Part of the reason for this was that researchers were told to exclude gender from their experiments if they wanted accurate results. And because it was considered that alcoholism was a predominantly male issue, no one questioned the potential gaps in our knowledge that might result from ignoring alcoholism among women.
In the past, important gender gaps in medical research were not addressed; however, this has changed as a result of mandates from government agencies such as the US National Institutes of Health requiring the inclusion of women and minorities as clinical study subjects.
Professor of psychiatry and behavioural science at the University of North Dakota’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences Sharon Wilsnack says, “People just didn’t think about women.” Insofar as they did, “they basically assumed, well, you could study guys and it could apply to women.”
Wilsnack did her dissertation on the topic of women and alcohol for her PhD at Harvard University in the early 1970s. Her search of the Widener Library for relevant material turned up only seven research. Later, Wilsnack directed the first nationwide study tracking women’s drinking habits for an extended period of time with her sociologist husband by her side.
They found, among other things, that women who drink alcohol are more likely to have been sexually assaulted as children, a difference between the sexes that is now recognised as vital for assisting women who struggle with addiction.