Women are less likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol problem than men, because their use and abuse problems often hide under the kinds of presenting symptoms physicians expect from women.
Because women’s abuse problems hide under other symptoms doctors are less likely to ask the questions about substance use of women, and addiction progresses further for women than men, taking a greater toll. Female alcoholism has a 50% higher mortality rate than for men.
For women, depression is usually the primary diagnosis, the first-noticed problem. Alcohol or drug abuse disorder are secondary conditions. Many women see drugs or alcohol as a way to have more control in their lives, as an avenue for escaping or medicating past pain. Women with substance abuse issues are two times as likely to have a history of being raped. Seventy-five percent of women in jail for substance abuse crimes have been in abusive relationships.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Above seven drinks per week, a woman’s chances of abusing alcohol or becoming dependent increase. Also, even women who drink less than seven drinks a week are at increased risk of developing alcohol abuse or dependence if they occasionally have four more drinks on any given day.”
When alcohol or drug use becomes abuse or addiction, they are treatable. Working in all-female groups allows women-specific issues to be addressed. Look for programs using models of treatment that are not confrontational.
It is estimated that the number of women in the United States who drink has increased significantly over the last 40 years and that heavy drinking has increased among young, employed women. As many as 16 percent of these women may be consuming three to five drinks per day.
Fewer women than men drink. However, among the heaviest drinkers, women equal or surpass men in the number of problems that result from their drinking. For example, female alcoholics have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than those of male alcoholics, including deaths from suicides, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease and stroke, and liver cirrhosis.
Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related liver damage. They develop liver disease in a shorter period of time and at lower levels of consumption. The number of alcoholic women who develop alcohol-related liver disease is higher than among alcoholic men.
Repeated or sustained episodes of alcohol intoxication may suppress hormonal activity in women. Studies suggest that there is a higher prevalence of menstrual dysfunction and accelerated onset of menopause among alcoholic women. Other problems such as obstetrical disorders and gynecological surgery are also more common.