By Sarah Rusbatch: 3 Ways alcohol affects Women differently to Men
A guest Blog by Sarah Rusbatch
Are women the ‘weaker sex’ when it comes to alcohol? As it turns out, where physiology is concerned, we are. In our quest for equality in all areas of our lives, little information has been shared around the impact of alcohol on a woman’s body compared to her male counterpart.
Since I quit drinking in early 2019, I have supported thousands of women across the globe to change their own relationship with alcohol and it has led to me going deeper into the research of why women are drinking at a level higher than ever before and how this is actually affecting us physically.
For years I was stuck in the ‘grey area’ of drinking where I didn’t define myself as being an ‘alcoholic’ but I did define myself as having a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I drank to unwind, to de-stress, to ‘take the edge off’ after a hard day, as a reward and a treat at the end of a hard day, to celebrate, commiserate and everything in between. And while I was worried about the level I was drinking and how it was impacting me, I was finding it hard to stop. Alcohol had been a part of my life since my early teens and slowly but surely, the amount I was drinking was creeping up.
I certainly noticed a change in drinking habits after becoming a mum. Alcohol stopped being a fun social lubricant to enhance my hard partying lifestyle and instead became my survival tool for managing loneliness, anxiety and stress when juggling work, home life and raising two small children. Little did I know that the crippling anxiety I was experiencing was actually being caused by the increased alcohol consumption, rather than the alcohol providing the solution to it.
As I delved deeper into my research of how alcohol affects women (by now I was leading a community of over 10,000 women across the globe, all sharing similar stories around their drinking habits and desire to change) I learnt that there are 3 physiological reasons that women are more vulnerable to health implications when it comes to alcohol consumption, compared to men.
Our vulnerabilities start with the simple fact that we have, in most cases, more body fat than men. This means our body contains less water than men (as body fat contains little water) and less water means less ability to dilute the alcohol that we consume.
This means we retain a higher component of alcohol in our bodies and for longer. Secondly, women have a lower level of the key metabolizing enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) which is what helps our body to break down and eliminate alcohol. Consequently, a larger amount of the alcohol we consume enters our blood stream. And finally, our fluctuating hormone levels mean that we react differently to the same amount of alcohol at differing times of the month (alcohol sets in faster when estrogen levels are higher).
Ever wondered why on one occasion you can drink 3 glasses and feel fine and another night you have the same amount and barely remember getting home and suffer the most awful hangover the next day? That’s all related to our estrogren levels that month. This is only enhanced as we enter peri menopause and our hormone levels become even more erratic.
It's also important to note that women’s chemistry means we become dependent on alcohol much faster than men – a fact that was apparent even back in 1939 when the Big Book for AA was written. But it’s a slow and insidious dependency that starts with a nightly wine ‘to take the edge off’ which then leads to 2 and before we know it, we are drinking a bottle or more because our tolerance has increased.
Learning to build a toolkit of strategies outside of the need for nightly wine is what I work on primarily with my clients. Because there are so many other options available to us, we just have to be open to exploring them.
To join my global community of women intent on changing their relationship with alcohol, click here.