Alcohol use in women: Is it time to rethink having a drink?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Melissa Smith
  • 78th Medical Group

The repeal of alcohol prohibition on Dec. 5, 1933 ended almost a decade and a half of failure by the temperance movement to end America's "1920's drunkenness problem."
Despite years of effort to curb alcohol use in America, the National Institutes of Health confirm only 35 percent of Americans don't drink alcohol.

While no amount of alcohol is safe, for those who do drink, education about how to best manage alcohol consumption is a more realistic option. Men and women differ in the amount alcohol they're able to consume due to body size, body composition, and genetic differences between genders.

In general, drinking alcohol is more risky for a women's health because alcohol is slower to be eliminated from their body.

Women lack components of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase necessary to breakdown alcohol in their stomachs, resulting in a higher alcohol level for liver to process out of the body.

For women the resulting higher alcohol level increases the risk of liver damage, increases a women's susceptibility to heart disease, and has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 10 percent for every drink they have per day.

Additionally, sharing any amount alcohol with an unborn child during pregnancy could affect brain development and lead to learning and behavioral problems.

Higher levels of alcohol circulating in the blood impair coordination increasing the risk of falls, affecting emotions and impairing thinking. For women, drinking as little as one alcohol drink - two drinks for men - can be too much for driving a car. It can also be too much for women who are prescribed medications that interact with alcohol such as Ambien or Lunesta.

Most people have their own opinion what constitutes a drink of alcohol and are surprised to learn that a single drink is considered to contain 0.6 ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol. Since alcohol content varies with type of alcohol consumed, so does the fluid amount comprising a single drink.

For example; A 12-ounce can of regular beer (not malt liquor), a 5-ounce glass of table wine, and a drink containing a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, or tequila are all considered one drink according the NIH.

Similarly, drinking a standard 750-mililiter bottle of wine is considered to be equal to five drinks. A fifth of hard liquor, also 750ml, is equivalent to consuming 17 alcohol drinks.

So what level of alcohol is safe to consume? The answer is that even low-risk drinking doesn't mean no risk.

It's best for women, not to exceed three standard drinks on any day or seven drinks per week. Ultimately the decision to drink alcohol is a decision only you can determine.

Editor's note: If you choose to drink, don't surpass standard limits and don't drink and drive. Have a plan and a designated driver and call Airmen Against Drunk Driving at 478-222-0013 for a ride if your plan fails.