Why Alcohol Affects Women More Than Men

Why does alcohol affect men differently than women? Why do women get drunk faster than men?

“Even when a man and a woman weigh exactly the same amount, a woman only needs 90 percent of what a man consumes to achieve the same blood alcohol level. “ –the daily beast

It doesn’t seem fair does it?

It all comes down to the physiological differences between men and women. Women are built differently than men; these differences are responsible for the heightened effects of alcohol. There are several ways that women metabolize alcohol differently than men:

1. Women have less body water.

Regardless of height and weight, women have a larger proportion of body fat compared to men, who have a larger proportion of muscle mass. (I know, right?) Muscle mass contains 75% water and body fat contains only 25% water. (For the science geeks out there, you’ll remember that fat repels water.) Thus, women have less body water.

When alcohol enters the body, it diffuses uniformly into all body water. But because women have less water to dilute the alcohol, their blood alcohol concentration is higher.

2. Women have lower levels of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase.

Alcohol dehydrogenase is the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body. Found mostly in the stomach, this enzyme breaks down the majority of alcohol before it enters the blood stream. Women have lower levels of this enzyme, so they will absorb higher levels of alcohol into their bloodstream than men.

3. Women have increased hormonal fluctuations.

Ah, hormones. Hormones get blamed way too much for female behavior. It’s the scapegoat for every womanly problem, the excuse for every mood swing. But this is one situation where hormones really do play a part. Really.

Fluctuations in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle will affect the rate of alcohol metabolism. Women tend to absorb alcohol faster and to a greater degree during the premenstrual phase (the time before the arrival of the period). Also, the estrogen in birth control pills extend the effects of alcohol.

This All Leads to Higher Health Risks for Women

Because women and men process alcohol so differently, women are more adversely affected by alcohol use. Women are also more susceptive to alcohol-related diseases such as

  • Hepatitis, or an “alcoholic liver”: According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, cirrhosis mortality rates are about two times higher in women than in men.
  • Heart disease: Women who drink have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and stroke than men.
  • Breast cancer: Women who drink more than 2 drinks a day are more at risk for developing breast cancer.
  • Sleep: Women’s sleep is more easily disrupted by alcohol than men’s
  • Addiction: A study posted in the Huffington Post reported that alcohol is twice as deadly for women who struggle with addiction than with men.

To find out how much you should drink–or how much you should not drink–check out our info graphic “How much alcohol can I safely drink?