Alcohol and the effects of Women's Health
Before you can understand how alcohol effects an unborm child you first need to know how it effects individual(s) that consume alcohol regularly. Please take the time to read this information. It is up-to-date information that can give you the knowledge you need to be informed.
Alcohol: The effects on men and women’s health
There was a day in time when women could not vote, could not drive, and could not open a bank account without her husband’s permission. How times have changed. Today women are equal to men in many ways. Women hold the same positions in employment, receive the same education, and party just as hard-as men. As a society that encourages change and equal opportunities between the sexes, we often neglect or ignore the differences that affect the short and long term health of women for the need to be one of the guys. Women now drink with the boys. They participate in tailgating events, business meetings where alcohol is served, and go to the bars. In the need to become equal women are going drink for drink with men, placing themselves in dangerous situations while under the influence, and putting themselves at risk for complications with their health that could lead to devastating consequences, including death.
Benefits and Risks
Women just as much as men use alcohol to relax, celebrate, and associate the health benefits of drinking such as “lower rates of heart attack, blood clot[s]-caused [by] stroke . . . , raise the levels of good cholesterol;. . . [and an] improved sensitivity to insulin” too encourage their alcohol use (Drinking (Alcoholic Beverages), 2010). In today’s world people tend to believe that health benefits outweigh risks. Often individuals are unaware of what they are doing to their bodies, their brain, and their mental health. Society has brought to the forefront awareness that heavy drinking leads to “pancreatic and liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis” but many are unaware that “drinking is linked to higher rates of cancer including cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus” (Drinking (Alcoholic Beverages), 2010). People tend to be under the perception that these cancers are often a long term results of over use and abuse. But what is over use and abuse of alcohol? What does that mean for our society, our community, and our neighborhoods? “In the United States, 51% of persons aged 12 and over reported being current drinkers in 2009 (Ashwill, 2010).” Katie Ashwill, an Intern for National Women’s Health Network, stated in an article she had written in 2010 To lose all inhibition . . . . that “The Dietary guidelines for Americans (set by a collaborative effort with USDA and DHHS) attempts to set a standard of alcohol consumption at no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men (par.3).” Should we consider 1-2 alcohol beverages acceptable when using them on a daily basis? What is to prevent individuals from saying that since they are allowed to consume 7- 14 drinks a week that there is no risk in consuming that in one day as long as they do not drink the rest of the week?
What many do not know or unaware of is that drinking in this manner is considered binge drinking. “Binge drinking, in which a person consumes five or more drinks (for men) and four or more drinks (for women) in a period of about two hours” . . . “Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning and result in accidental death” (Drinking (Alcoholic Beverages), 2010). Many people that consume large amounts of alcohol, especially, in a short period of time do not agree with this outcome. The increased risks of impulsive behavior on the part of individuals who drink large amounts do not foresee they place on themselves or those around them. An “increased risk of accidental injury, such as falls, drowning, burns, or care crashes, and of unprotected sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy (Drinking (Alcoholic Beverages), 2010).” While binge drinkers may not identify these dangers they are also unaware that these dangers are not only affecting them by the others that may be in their path of destruction. Young people who are 18-20 years old are identified as 51% of the drinking population, yet they do not believe that binge drinking will cause permanent damage to their liver not even when confronted by the evidence that it can only take once (Drinking (Alcoholic Beverages), 2010).
When it only can take one time to damage an organ the skeptics may have a more difficult time believing the long term effects of how alcohol harms the body with moderate and high risk use that most people identify as a regular use pattern. It has been identified that alcohol affects the body either in the short term or the long term. Many people who drink are aware of the short term or acute effects of alcohol on their bodies. “Acute intoxication stops the brain from functioning normally, leads to slurred speech, loss of coordination, and impaired judgment. . . also causes vomiting and a hangover, a condition that includes headache and nausea (Alcoholism, 2010) Those high risk individuals, which are also identified as chronic or long term users are also identified as alcoholics, According to the article Addiction (2010):
Alcoholics are at increased risk of dementia and stroke; hypertension; psychiatric problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide; cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast; gastrointestinal diseases, including pancreatitis and gastritis; and social problems such as unemployment and family dysfunction. Alcoholics are at very high risk of liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis, an incurable disease. Alcoholics often have poor diets and suffer from a lack of proper nutrition. In addition, alcohol impairs the body’s ability to absorb and use and nutrients (p. 2, par. 5).
Women and men hear the term alcoholic and run from it. They are not homeless, they can stop when they want to, and their health has nothing to do with their consumption of alcohol. If that is true why run from it? Alcoholism is a disease. According to Smith & Sullivan (2010) they define alcoholism as, “a disease that results in chronic alcohol abuse. Alcoholism can cause early death from complications to the brain, liver, and heart (p.10, par.5).”
The effects of alcohol and alcoholism on a woman’s health have not been very well studied. While researchers only studied men till the 1990’s and then allowed female participation after that but in doing so neglected the differences between the genders till recently. Now women and researches are focusing on the differences between the genders and what they had previously thought that men and women had the same health risk is showing that there is a need for more research that is focused on women, their health, and substance use. Some studies are misleading and do not offer an explanation of their findings. Women need to be informed so those if they chose to drink in what some say are healthy amounts you are aware what is healthy and what is dangerous. Depending on an individual’s current health women after consulting with her doctor can identify if they should drink or not. “They found that women who reported drinking approximately one alcoholic beverage per day at age 58 had a 20 percent better chance of “successful aging” than their non-drinking counterparts. The researchers defined “successful aging” as making it to 70 with good cognitive function, no major chronic diseases, no physical limitations and good overall mental health” ("Moderate alcohol consumption," 2011). Regardless of what study you chose to listen to it is important to make an informed decision and gather all the information good and the bad.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has discovered that women are at higher risk because a woman’s drinking pattern, amount, and frequency are different to men because a woman’s body has a different reaction than previously believed due to the reduced weight, having less water in their bodies, and biological differences which include hormones (2011). The way a woman processes alcohol makes them vulnerable and sensitive to the effects. According to the Harvard Health Publication, “Women tend to weigh less than men, and—pound for pound—a woman’s body contains less water and more fatty tissue than a man’s. Because fat retains alcohol while water dilutes it, alcohol remains at higher concentrations for longer periods of time in a woman’s body, exposing her brain and other organs to more alcohol” (2012). This allows for a higher blood alcohol concentration which could lead to risky behavior, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted disease and increases the risk of sexual and physical abuse.
Due to the amount of water in the body the metabolism is affected. “Women have lower levels of two enzymes—alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase—that metabolize (break down) alcohol in the stomach and liver. As a result, women absorb more alcohol into their bloodstreams than men. . . . “Changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle may also affect how a woman metabolizes alcohol.” (Harvard Health, 2012). It takes smaller quantities of alcohol to have damage to begin in a woman’s body. A woman’s body weight and health, her genetic markers, and age all play apart to how alcohol will affect her body. Women who consume large quantities of alcohol place themselves for a higher risk of “osteoporosis, falls and fractures, and premature menopause” as well as, “infertility and miscarriages, high blood pressure, and heart disease” (Harvard Health, 2012).
Those very few that did research on women before the 1990’s found that women were at risk for illness and they are quoted stating “the sex differences being statistically significant for fatty liver, hypertension, obesity, anemia, malnutrition, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and an ulcer requiring surgery” and there call for additional research has now being studied (Ashley, et la. 1977).
Continuing the need of additional information from Ashley’s research the study of women’s health is under review. Research has discovered that women are at a high risk for liver damage, heart disease, breast cancer, and risk pertaining to pregnancy. “Women who drink are more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation) than men who drink the same amount of alcohol. Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis” (National Institute of Health, 2011).The results of a study done in 1987 confirmed those findings stating “that women may develop similar, and sometimes even more severe, liver disease after consumption of less alcohol than men” (Loft, Oleson & Dossing, 1987). The heart is affected just as severely as the liver. “Chronic heavy drinking is a leading cause of heart disease. Among heavy drinkers, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men, even though women drink less alcohol over a lifetime than men” (National Institute of Health, 2011).
There is also the association between cancer and alcohol that continues to be researched and what has been discovered is that “There is an association between drinking alcohol and developing breast cancer. Women who consume about one drink per day have a 10 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all” (National Institute of Health, 2011). The research continues in this area but recently the main focus is how a woman’s alcohol usage affects an unborn child. The discovery that was once unknown is that “Any drinking during pregnancy is risky. A pregnant woman who drinks heavily puts her fetus at risk for learning and behavioral problems and abnormal facial features. Even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause problems. Drinking during pregnancy also may increase the risk for preterm labor” (National Institute of Health, 2011).
Some women do not believe the long term effects of alcohol or how women are more susceptible to injury then men but they are aware of their self-esteem and weight. The fear of appearance has swayed. some when they discover that alcohol is “also associated with being obese or overweight—not surprising. . considering that the average mixed drink has 300 calories” (Greenfield, 2009).
While we have entered an age of awareness, information, prevention and intervention much work still needs to be done. There is still much confusion to the benefits and risks of alcohol consumption. Much of that information is due to the lack of information when it pertains to women that do not include men. More and more research is being pursued and women are beginning to take notice. They are taking back their health and getting the help they need. Information is the key to women’s health and the knowledge gained over the past years will help women to improve their health and prevent the one of the boys mentality that many women have today after years of not being equal.