Women and Alcoholism

Women can be a special population when it comes to alcoholism. About 60 percent of American women drink and 13 percent of those exceed the one-a-day recommendation, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In regard to alcohol abuse, the Institute says about 5.3 million women drink "in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being." Their addictive behavior can be even more hidden, as addiction in women can be more stigmatized than it is with men. Women can feel even greater despair, hopelessness and isolation from the stigma that prevents them from accessing appropriate treatment. 
  
image-21-360x240Using alcohol as an example that is well studied – women even respond to alcohol differently, for complicated physiological reasons not related to weight or body size. Alcohol (and likely other drugs) is actually more dangerous to women's physical health. Women who drink heavily are at risk for many things including increased chance for liver disease and certain kinds of cancer. Also, heavy drinking in women can lead to impaired fertility. Drinking while pregnant can cause a whole host of birth defects. Beyond these physical effects, drinking also puts women at greater risk for drunk driving, violence and sexual assault because of impaired judgment. 
  
Because of our private office setting and individual approach, women can fell safe obtaining treatment, and can even choose to work with a female psychiatrist. We offer personalized solutions using psychotherapy, relapse prevention and office-based treatment.

How Does Alcohol Affect Women's Bodies?

Differences in body weight and fluid content between men and women impacts how alcohol affects the body. Alcohol abuse has serious physical consequences for women with health risks that include the following: 

  • Alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Alcohol-induced brain damage, brain shrinkage, memory loss and learning difficulties
  • Alcoholism linked to dementia
  • Estrogen and alcohol combined may increase the risk of liver damage
  • Higher risk of alcohol-related heart disease
  • Higher risk of osteoporosis and pancreatitis
  • Hypertension, malnutrition and anemia
  • Increased risk of breast cancer
  • Increases risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Menstrual difficulties
  • More likely to die from cirrhosis
  • Pregnant women have a greater risk of having babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

Why Do Women Drink?

Many of reasons why women drink are the same with men: stress, overwork, anxiety, and depression, a desire to fit in, relax or overcome inhibitions. However, according to the book "Women Under the Influence": 

  • Female alcoholics are five times more likely than men (69 percent vs. 12 percent) to have been sexually abused as children
  • Female alcoholics are also more likely than men to suffer eating disorders
  • Women usually start drinking heavily after a crisis, such as divorce, unemployment, miscarriage or a child leaving the home
  • Women are more likely than men to self-medicate with alcohol to deal with the loss of a spouse, financial difficulties or loneliness

How are Women Treated for Alcoholism?

Women usually pursue non-traditional alcoholism treatment, instead seeing their doctor or a mental health professional. Those who do not seek treatment are affected by the following factors: 

  • Childcare
  • Marriage to alcoholic partner
  • Problems from past victimization
  • Low self esteem
  • Guilt
  • Stigmatization
  • Social withdrawal
  • Social policy

It is important to check all past and present psychiatric disorders, and how they affect alcohol abuse and a woman's daily functioning. Women need to be evaluated for poor self-esteem, family relationships and parenting concerns that may affect successful treatment outcomes. Women usually better outcomes than men to moderate drinking treatment programs that have a choice of treatment goals. Couples and family counseling may also help the family. Additionally, specialized treatment for trauma victims can be beneficial for addicted women. 

Contact Fifth Avenue Psychiatry

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3 East 85th Street
New York NY 10028
T. 212-734-0506

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