Women's Health

Mixed Reviews on Alcohol Use by Women

Alcohol can be both a benefit and a danger to women, according to two recent studies. The key seems to be in knowing when it's appropriate to drink and how much alcohol is considered safe.

Photo of woman with a glass of wine

In the first study, researchers looked at the affects of moderate alcohol use on one aspect of a woman's health. The survey, published in the journal BMJ, found that women who had more than three glasses of alcohol a week for at least 10 years had a significantly lower risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

A glass of alcohol was defined as a pint of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.7 ounces of distilled liquor.

RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own joints and tissues, often causing crippling pain. It strikes women more often than men.

Benefits for RA

"This study adds more fuel to the fire regarding the beneficial effects of alcohol," says Martin Jan Bergman, M.D., at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. "This is one of multiple studies that have shown that alcohol can have a beneficial effect on risk for [RA]."

The key word, he said, is "moderate."

But there are times during a woman's life when even moderate alcohol use is too much. The most important time is during pregnancy. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to birth defects and developmental disabilities, as well as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Alcohol and pregnancy

Although most women know the dangers of drinking while pregnant, the second of the two studies showed that almost 8 percent - or one in 13 pregnant women - say they drink.

Researchers found that the highest rates of drinking while pregnant were among white women, ages 35 to 44, who were college graduates and employed. They also found that 1.4 percent of participants reported binge drinking - having five to six drinks per occasion, two to four times per month.

The second study was published in a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC.

Both studies suggest that women in general need more education on the dangers and benefits of alcohol use.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Psychological Association - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment

CDC - Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol: A Women's Health Issue

September 2012

Figure on These Factors When Drinking Alcohol

If you drink, certain factors can influence your body's reaction to alcohol. These factors include:

  • Your body weight

  • Amount of muscle or fat you have

  • Your gender and age

  • How fast you are drinking

  • Amount of food in your stomach

Women's and men's bodies differ in how they absorb and use alcohol. Women have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than men do after drinking the same amount of alcohol. This is because they have less water in their body and because the stomach enzyme ADH, which metabolizes alcohol, isn't as active as it is in men.

Alcohol usually is absorbed from your gastrointestinal tract 30 to 60 minutes after you drink it. Your stomach absorbs about 20 percent, and the remainder is absorbed in the small intestine. About 10 percent of alcohol is eliminated from your body by your kidneys and lungs. The amount of alcohol you exhale is used to estimate BAC.

For the average-sized woman, legal intoxication occurs after about two drinks. For an average-sized man, it's about three drinks. Your body processes about one average drink an hour.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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