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We humans have been drinking alcohol since ancient times, using it in rituals, as medicine, and for recreational purposes. Whilst men have traditionally been the biggest drinkers, this is changing. This escalation in women’s alcohol consumption comes with a sharp rise in alcohol use disorders. This is especially true in countries such as Australia, the United States, Russia, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Sweden (1).

A recent research paper examining the trends in alcohol-related deaths by sex in the US from 1999-2020 (2) shares concerning statistics. During the period from 1999 to 2007, there was a 1% increase per year for women. From 2007 to 2018, this quadrupled to 4.3%. But from 2018 to 2020, even taking COVID-19 into account, the yearly increase skyrocketed to 14.7%.

More women are dying from drinking too much alcohol

That means that in 2020, almost 15 times as many women died of alcohol-related causes than in 2007.

The same paper also noted that whilst men under the age of 60 still showed a higher rate of alcohol deaths than females, this was not the case in adults over the age of 65. In this age bracket, females showed a higher annual rate of increase (2).

But that’s not all. According to the MGH Centre for Women’s Health, many women continue to drink during pregnancy despite the risks of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), which include intellectual disabilities and birth defects (3).

According to the CDC, 1 in 7 pregnant women in the US have confirmed drinking alcohol at least once in the past 30 days. 1 in 20 have reported binge-drinking (which is defined as consuming more than four alcoholic drinks on one occasion (4)).

Studies show that women are drinking higher amounts of alcohol, drinking it more often, and engaging in more high-risk drinking, including binge-drinking.

Drinking and how it harms the female body

A woman’s body responds differently to alcohol than a man’s does. In fact, women are far more vulnerable to alcohol for several reasons.

Women typically have a higher percentage of body fat than men. As a result, an adult woman’s body is about 50% water, whilst an adult man’s is around 60%. Given the same body weight and alcohol consumption, a woman ends up with a higher concentration of alcohol in her bloodstream than a man.

Women also have lower levels of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. The result is that women tend to absorb more alcohol into the bloodstream. This means that more of it reaches the liver and other organs, increasing the risk of liver disease and other organ damage.

These two factors alone increase a woman’s vulnerability to a number of alcohol-related diseases – including fatty liver disease, hypertension, heart disease, and osteoporosis – as well as reproductive issues such as infertility and early menopause.

Women’s brains shrink more than their male counterparts due to excessive drinking

The connection between drinking alcohol and cancer has also been documented. The World Health Organisation has noted that more than 10% of alcohol-attributable cancer cases (including cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver) arise from drinking just one bottle of beer (500 ml) or two small glasses of wine (100 ml each) every day. The stats are even worse for breast cancer: 1 in 4 alcohol-attributable breast cancer cases are caused by drinking these same amounts.

Women may also experience alcohol-related cognitive decline and brain shrinkage more quickly than men (5).

Older women have some additional risks. Stress and depression related to menopause have been reported as a trigger for alcohol abuse. On top of that, older women have less body water and are less able to metabolise alcohol, which further reduces their tolerance.

What is motivating women to drink more?

Alcohol is an integral part of our social and cultural norms. We use it to celebrate special occasions, cope with life, get to know people, make deals, drown our sorrows, have fun, feel brave, and just plain good.

In the past, it was frowned upon for women to get drunk and rowdy. But social norms have changed, and it has become far more socially acceptable for women to drink. The role of women in society has also changed in terms of education, careers, childbearing, and relationships.

Women see drinking as a way to relax; overcome difficult emotions; deal with work, home, children, and relationships; assert their independence; and fit in socially.

And one cannot underestimate the power of marketing. Alcohol brands have seen the opportunity to promote their products to women by aligning alcoholic beverages with fun, sophistication, empowerment, and female friendship. They portray it as the ultimate bonding tool (6). We’ve also seen the emergence of female-centered drinks, which tend to be sweet, pink, fruit-flavored, or low-calorie to encourage women to drink more (7).

Where to from here?

Many women who believe they drink in moderation would be surprised to learn that their alcohol consumption exceeds the level that’s considered safe for them.

For women, unhealthy alcohol use (also known as Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD) is defined as having more than three drinks per day or seven per week (8). That’s not much, especially when you consider the fact that many women binge drink.

Women who recognize they may have a drinking problem often face other challenges (socio-economic disparities, childcare responsibilities, employment issues, and more) and may be less likely to seek or even have access to help. Whilst these challenges remain, sadly, the risk to women and their health will continue to increase.


1. Alcoholism by Country 2023 –
2. Karaye IM, Maleki N, Hassan N, Yunusa I. Trends in Alcohol-Related Deaths by Sex in the US, 1999-2020. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(7):e2326346. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.26346
3. Alcohol and Pregnancy: Attitudes and Patterns of Drinking Vary Around the Globe
4. Alcohol’s Effects on Health –
5. Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Women’s Health
6. A. M. Atkinson, B. R. Meadows & H. R. Sumnall (2022) ‘You’re in the alcohol Matrix, then you unplug from it, and you’re like ‘Wow’’’: exploring sober women’s management, negotiation and countering of alcohol marketing in the UK, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, DOI: 10.1080/09687637.2022.2145935
7. The feminisation of alcohol marketing –

Read more

This is why drinking could send you to an early grave. Click on the link here: Alcohol and your health

Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule is a graduate in Sports Sciences and has an MBA. She has worked in the medical industry, distribution and manufacturing for many decades. She has taken her years of business experience and her passion for health and launched Alma Herbs, an online store selling only the best natural food and remedies. You can take a look at their bespoke offering:


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