According to government figures you would expect to find 87 women
who drink alcohol. Nineteen of them drink very occasionally, 53
drink an amount which is regarded as sensible for women, and 14
drink at levels which could put their health at risk. Two or three
of these women face severe problems and dependence.
Now imagine the same room full of an equally randomly selected
group of 100 men. In this case, 93 drink alcohol at some time.
Just 8 of them drink very occasionally, 58 are drinking sensibly
and 27 drink amounts which could endanger their health. Six or
seven men would be facing problems with dependence.
Men clearly drink more than women. Not only that, but more than
twice as many men as women drink at levels which threaten their
long-term health. Three times as many men as women drink at the
most harmful level.
So why a booklet on women and alcohol? Because
- Women ask questions such as Does alcohol affect us differently from men? Should women drink
less than men What about alcohol in pregnancy? My husband
drinks too much, what should I do?
- Although women do drink less than men and have fewer alcohol problems
than men, more women in the late 1990s are drinking at levels
which cause concern than 10 or 15 years ago.
This booklet gives information to enable women to make informed
choices about alcohol, how it affects their bodies (including
alcohol and pregnancy) and how to find information if their own
or someone else's drinking is causing concern. Sometimes there
has not been enough research in women's drinking to answer all
these questions or to lay down hard and fast rules. This booklet
explains what we do know and offers advice based on that.
How your body deals with alcohol
Whether you drink a glass of wine, a half pint of beer or a tot
of spirits, the body deals with alcohol in exactly the same way.
A small amount of the alcohol passes through the stomach and into
the bloodstream. You will probably begin to notice the effects
after about 10 to 20 minutes (more quickly on an empty stomach).
The rest of the alcohol continues along the digestive system and
also passes into the bloodstream and from there to the brain.
Why benchmarks are lower for women
This is not a male conspiracy. Honestly. With generally lighter
bodies than men, less body fluid than men, and some research finding
that women are more vulnerable to alcohol-related illness than
men, women need to drink at lower levels in order to stay healthy.
A low risk level for a healthy woman is 2 to 3 units a day
as we have seen, many women drink less than this. But drinking
three units (or more) a day, every day, is not a good idea it's
at this point that women begin to put their health at risk.
A woman's guide to Alcohol is published by Alcohol Concern with the support of Marks and
Spencer plc. Copies are available from Alcohol Concern, Waterbridge
House, 32-36 Loman Street, London SE1 OEE. Tel 020 7928 7377