Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
A woman's guide to Alcohol - Alcohol Concern
Imagine a room containing one hundred women

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

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