1. Health

Greater Risks for Women

Dateline: 11/04/98

She wakes up groggy with a tremendous hangover, then makes a startling discovery. She is not in her own room, not in her own bed, and not alone.

Oh, no! I'm in bed with a man! How did I get here? I don't remember. Did I we have sex? We must have! Did he use protection? Could I be pregnant? Could I have a sexually transmitted disease? How did this happen? Everybody else was drinking and apparently having a good time. She was not drinking any more or less than her companion, and he seemed to be in control. How did she get so out of it?

The simple answer is women get drunk a lot faster than men. Even allowing for differences in body weight, a woman will attain a higher blood alcohol concentration than a man from the same amount of alcohol. This may be because women have lower levels of Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH), an enzyme involved in the metabolism of alcohol.

The end result was, while her date was drinking right along with her, he was simply not getting as drunk -- while she was drinking herself into a blackout -- and later he took advatange of the situation. It is a scene that has been played millions of times.

Other Risk Factors

Getting drunker quicker is not the only risk for women who drink to excess. Women are not only more sensitive to alcohol, may become addicted sooner, may develop alcohol-related problems more quickly, and many die younger than men with similar drinking problems.

Women usually have drinking patterns similar to those of their husband or lover and their friends. But because of the biological make-up of their bodies, develop alcohol-related diseases sooner, according to a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Plus there is growing evidence that women are at an especially high risk for the health and social problems caused by alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, compared to their mail counterparts.

Growing Problem

Recent studies have indicated an increase of alcohol and substance abuse problems in the general female population. More women are drinking to deal with stress, according to health experts in a National Opinion Poll. More young professional females are drinking more after work , while mothers with small children are drinking more frequently at home.

Now that more women are in the work force, they have come out in the open with their drinking. A quarter of women questioned in the poll admitted having an alcoholic drink every day, with the same number drinking more heavily on weekends.

Women are also beginning to drink more early in life. In the early 1960's, among girls, about seven percent of the new users of alcohol were between the ages of 10-14. By the early 1990's, that percentage had increased to 31 percent. On top of this, girls today are 15 times more likely than their mother to begin using illegal drugs by age 15.

Other Factors

Women first caught up to men in cigarette smoking in the mid-1970s and their rate of lung cancer soared. Now, according to a new study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, women are catching up to men in the consumption of alcohol and the use of drugs.

To make matters worse, treatment of substance abuse in women lags behind because the female anatomy is more complex and they face greater social stigma that hinders treatment. Only 14% of women who need treatment get it, according to the Betty Ford Center.

Women simply pay a higher price for alcohol abuse than men.

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