Women and Alcoholism
Alcoholism consumes each of its victims’ lives in a unique way. For women, scientific research has shown that, in some ways, alcohol interacts in a biologically different manner than it does in men. While myths and folklore are sometimes attached to sensitive subjects, it is vitally important to understand the factual evidence when seeking to combat this disease in each and every woman.
Recent news reports do not shy away from conveying the devastating impact of alcoholism in some women’s lives. Some researchers believe that we are in the midst of a so-called “global epidemic” of…
alcohol overconsumption by females. The increase of alcohol consumption by women since World War II is attributed to the specific marketing to the female demographic. Although there is still so much to learn about how alcohol affects women, some things are known. For example, women with college degrees are almost twice as likely to consume alcohol on a daily basis. While this trend does not directly translate into alcoholism, the potential risk can be significantly higher because of it (Johnson 2013).
The amount of research that is available to address women and alcoholism is growing every month. While many questions must still be answered, the research that is available is a start. Whether you, or someone you know, is possibly suffering from alcoholism, the more information that is available to you, the better equipped you are to fight this disease in your life.
Most research into alcoholism and women offers a relatively similar basis regarding the cause of the disease. Alcoholism is almost always a combination of hereditary vulnerability with environmental factors, such as social interactions. Genetic traits are considered to account for approximately half of the factors that are involved with the development of alcoholism. Men develop alcoholism at a rate that is 2 to 3 times higher than women. Chromosomal factors were proposed as a reason for differences between the presentation of alcoholism in men and women. The results of the study considering sex chromosomes as a variable in female alcoholism did not prove to be conclusive. If chromosome development for women was a factor, then researchers believe that there would be an increase in the early onset of alcoholism. However, the study in question did not find a conclusive link (Manzardo et al 2012).
Another study attempted to address the variations in the presentation of alcoholism in the two sexes by examining hormonal levels in association with alcohol dependence. The study evaluated appetite-, reproductive-, and pituitary-related hormones. Given the identifiable differences, the reproductive hormones are of particular interest. The potential for alcohol abuse development is often associated with deficiencies in cognitive control, response inhibition, and emotional regulation. Reproductive hormones appear to have some relation to these deficiencies. For example, researchers have shown that premenopausal women whom drink heavily exhibited higher levels of plasma prolactin. Further, in comparison to women who only occasionally drank, extended alcohol intake is connected to the degeneration of the neurons within the hypothalamic magnocellular nucleus (Kenna et al 2012).
A September 2013 study attempts to focus on the specific connection between depression and alcohol misuse in women. Initially, the researchers found that depression among women is statistically significant within the entire population. Upwards of 17% of all women in the United States meet the clinical threshold for depression. These researchers also highlight several studies that show the connection between depression in women and alcohol dependence or misuse. While women who suffer from depression are more likely to be dependent on alcohol, the majority of depressed women do not misuse alcohol. In attempting to understand why some women who meet the standard clinical definition of depression are more prone to alcohol-related issues, the study found that both interpersonal and familial factors were statistically significant in connecting episodes of depression with alcohol misuse in women. For example, women displaying symptoms of depression whose parents were alcohol dependent or misused alcohol were more likely to suffer from heart-related problems than their non-depressed counterparts (Nolen-Hoeksema et al 2013).
Childhood abuse has a well-defined connection to alcoholism later in life within the literature. One recent study has attempted to clarify how childhood abuse among females specifically impacts the misuse of alcohol later in life. The study found that most female victims of childhood abuse were statistically more likely to currently be in a relationship, older, non-Caucasian, and have not achieved the level of education as their counterparts who did not suffer from abuse. Further, the victims of abuse more likely to suffer from depression and the symptoms of alcohol addiction and misuse. Childhood victimization among the female population is linked to numerous negative outcomes related to alcohol. Sexual abuse was specifically and directly linked to a risk of self-destructive behavior later in life that often included alcohol (La Fair et al 2013).
Treatment for alcohol dependence among women is often different than it is for men. For example, a June 2013 study concentrated on how women benefited differently from assistance from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) than their male counterparts. Although the organization was launched in order to combat alcoholism in men, upwards of one-third of participating members are now female. The differences begin with altering drinking patterns. For men, AA helps to alter high-risk drinking patterns by changing social situations. In women, gender-specific drinking situations are not encountered as often. Therefore, AA does not aid women as much as it does men. Despite not being a significant portion of AA, the study showed that women’s, more than men’s, “alcohol use outcomes appear to be strongly related to their ability to cope with negative affect,” rather than altering social indicators (Kelly and Hoeppner 2013).
The scientific evidence is remarkably strong in showing how alcohol can victimize the lives of women in ways that differ from men. Alcohol abuse and dependence demands a specific form of treatment for every individual. Without acknowledging the unique nature of every addiction, including women and alcohol, the best treatment cannot be provided to our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Our team is standing by to provide you with more information regarding the best treatment options for you, or your loved one, today.
- Johnston, Ann Dowsett. Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol. 2013.
- Kelly, John F., and Bettina B. Hoeppner. “Does Alcoholics Anonymous work differently for men and women? A moderated multiple-mediation analysis in a large clinical sample.” Drug and alcohol dependence (2012).
- Kenna, George A., Robert M. Swift, Thomas Hillemacher, and Lorenzo Leggio. “The Relationship of Appetitive, Reproductive and Posterior Pituitary Hormones to Alcoholism and Craving in Humans.” Neuropsychology review 22, no. 3 (2012): 211-228.
- La Flair, Lareina N., Beth A. Reboussin, Carla L. Storr, Elizabeth LeTourneau, Kerry M. Green, Ramin Mojtabai, Lauren R. Pacek, Anika AH Alvanzo, Bernadette Cullen, and Rosa M. Crum. “Childhood abuse and neglect and transitions in stages of alcohol involvement among women: A latent transition analysis approach.” Drug and alcohol dependence (2013).
- Manzardo, Ann M., Rebecca Henkhaus, Brandon Hidaka, Elizabeth C. Penick, Albert B. Poje, and Merlin G. Butler. “X Chromosome Inactivation in Women with Alcoholism.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 36, no. 8 (2012): 1325-1329.
- Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, Alethea Desrosiers, and Sharon C. Wilsnack. “Predictors of alcohol-related problems among depressed and non-depressed women.” Journal of affective disorders (2013).