Scientific Evidence that Men and Women are Designed Differently


"... women experience a greater degree of impairment than men following moderate alcohol intake in the performance of certain mental tasks, say the review authors. These include decision-making, short and long-term memory, and the ability to perform more than one activity at a time. The last is particularly important to note, as driving a car takes coordinating several activities at once"


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Women and Drinking: Are We Different?

Recent research has led to the realization that many traditional conceptions concerning alcohol consumption are inaccurate when applied to women.

I don't understand why it seems that women are affected more quickly than men by alcohol, even if they are the same size.
Women have been found to absorb alcohol significantly faster than do men. Women have 25% less ADH (an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase) in their stomachs. Having less of this enzyme means that they metabolize less alcohol than do men, and more alcohol gets into their bloodstream. The more alcohol in one's bloodstream, the higher one's BAC (blood alcohol content), and the greater the impact of the alcohol on one's thinking and behavior. Alcohol gets into the tissues of the body by traveling through water. Men are composed of 55-65% water, while women are composed of only 45-55% water. In this way, alcohol is more diluted in men and more concentrated in women, again resulting in increased BACs in women.



Are there certain times of the menstrual cycle when women are affected more quickly by alcohol?
Even after drinking identical amounts of alcohol, a women's BAC may vary on different days in her menstrual cycle. In fact, one study found that when a woman drank the same amount of alcohol every day for a month, her peak BACs varied each day from .04 to .10 percent. The highest BACs were reached during the premenstrual time and ovulation. This variation in BAC is thought to be caused by hormonal fluctuations, especially in regard to estrogen. Elevated estrogen levels have been found to lead to slower alcohol metabolism, and therefore increased BACs.



Does being on the birth control pill influence how alcohol will affect me?
Women taking the Pill have been found to metabolize alcohol more slowly, remain intoxicated longer, and have a decreased desire to drink, as compared with women not taking oral contraceptives. All of these effects result from the increased estrogen levels produced by taking the Pill.



Is there a correlation between drinking and depression in women?
60% of women with severe drinking problems have been found to suffer from depression before the onset of their drinking problem. Also, in contrast to what is observed in the general population, women with severe drinking problems outnumber men with similar problems in terms of attempted and completed suicide. Alcohol is thought to inhibit an enzyme, monoamine oxidase (MAO), which is correlated with depressive symptoms. Thus, women may find that drinking helps them to feel better, and inadvertently "self-medicate" themselves by drinking alcohol to lower MAO levels and decrease their depression.


Susan McCarthy, ADAP Counselor/Director, 1 Safford Hall, x2616

Karen Jacobus, Health Educator, 112 Blanchard/21 Health Center, x2466

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Unfortunately, alcohol isn't up with the times when it comes to treating men and women equally. Check out this chart to see how drinking affects you, based on whether you're male or female.



Ability to Dilute Alcohol Average Total Body Water: 52% Average Total Body Water: 61%
Ability to Metabolize Alcohol Women have a smaller quantity of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Men have a larger quantity of dehydrogenase, which allows them to break down the alcohol they take in more quickly.
Hormonal Factors,
Part 1
Premenstrual hormonal changes cause intoxication to set in faster during the days right before a woman gets her period.
Their susceptibility to getting drunk does not fluctuate dramatically at certain times of the month.
Hormonal Factors,
Part 2 
Alcohol increases estrogen levels. Birth control pills or other medicine with estrogen increase intoxication. Alcohol also increases estrogen levels in men. Chronic alcoholism has been associated with loss of body hair and muscle mass, development of swollen breasts and shrunken testicles, and impotence.

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Women drinkers risk more than hangovers

Collegian Staff Writer

When it comes to alcohol, women are not quite equal to men.


While it is common knowledge that women generally have a lower tolerance of alcohol, many may not know why that is or what it means to the female body.

In addition to getting drunk faster, research shows that alcohol consumption puts women at higher risk for breast cancer and liver damage, among other detrimental effects.

"Drinking during a woman's earlier years has the greatest effect in promoting breast cancer," said Charles S. Fuchs, assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, who published a study on women and alcohol in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995.

Although cancer develops over a long period of time, the late teens and early 20s are the most vulnerable period because tissue growth is highest, Fuchs said.

Different tolerance levels between genders is not just because of lower body weight. Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men because the female body has less alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme that interacts with alcohol in the stomach before it enters the blood stream.

This results in higher blood alcohol concentrations over a shorter period of time, said Chris Dubbs, research specialist at the Pennsylvania Substance Abuse and Health Information Center.

What this translates into is a higher vulnerability to liver damage.

"Women alcoholics have a higher rate of cirrhosis (of the liver) than men (alcoholics)," Fuchs said.

Fuchs' study examined the possibility of beneficial effects of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption for women. While light-to-moderate drinking among men is thought to reduce overall mortality rates, primarily due to reduced risks of coronary heart disease, the same level of alcohol consumption among women is more complicated by the increased risk of breast cancer and cirrhosis.

Despite myth, it is only women who are at higher risks of coronary heart disease who might benefit from moderate drinking, Fuchs said. These women will benefit more from reducing other risk factors, such as cigarette smoking and obesity, he said.

When females consume one to two drinks a day, their risk of developing breast cancer increases by 20 to 40 percent. More than two drinks a day on average increases the risk of dying of breast cancer by 67 percent, Fuchs said.

But the college female who consumes alcohol typically engages in binge drinking on the weekend, as opposed to drinking a few drinks on a daily basis. This raises serious questions for researchers.

While no one has studied these issues with respect to binge drinking, Fuchs said research is under way.

HealthWorks on campus sponsors a program, "Women and Alcohol" to educate students about the social and physical implications of alcohol use.

"We emphasize what happens when you are drinking, not so much the long-term effects," said Katie Yavorka, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs educator for HealthWorks.

Women may not know that their menstrual cycle affects alcohol consumption or that the birth control pill increases the rate of alcohol absorption, Yavorka said.

"It's much easier to get drunk right before your period," she said.

The program also points out that women who drink heavily have more gynecological problems, greater risk of developing alcohol-related diseases and are more likely to deal with infertility, miscarriages, still birth and fetal alcohol syndrome.

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The following is a "Clinical Brief" from the August 1997 edition of American Family Physician.

NIAAA Report on Alcohol Metabolism

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has published a report on alcohol metabolism (Alcohol Alert bulletin no. 35). The bulletin contains information on the metabolic process; factors influencing alcohol absorption and metabolism; and the effects of alcohol metabolism on body weight, sex hormones and medications.

Factors that influence alcohol absorption and metabolism include gender and the type of food in the gastrointestinal tract when alcohol is consumed. Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men. Because of this, women may be more prone to alcohol-induced liver and heart damage. Alcohol affects the metabolism of a wide variety of medications, increasing the activity in some and diminishing the activity in others, potentially rendering some harmful and some ineffective.

To obtain a free copy of "Alcohol Metabolism" or to add your name to the mailing list to receive future Alcohol Alert bulletins, write the NIAAA, attn: Alcohol Alert, Office of Scientific Affairs, Scientific Communications Branch, Willco Building, Suite 409, 6000 Executive Boulevard, Bethesda, MD 20892.

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The Facts:


bulletAlcohol affects women differently than it does men. Women can become more intoxicated than men on the same amount of alcohol--even if they weigh the same.
bulletWomen are more susceptible to the influence of alcohol just prior to or during their menstrual cycle than at other times during their cycle.
bulletA glass of wine with dinner can add 10 pounds a year on a woman.
bulletOn average, a woman weighing 120 pounds requires 2.6 hours to metabolize one drink.
bulletNearly as many women are chemically dependent as men, but only 28.7% of people admitted to TCADA-funded programs in 1998 were women.
bulletBabies of mothers who drink heavily can be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a cause of birth defects and mental retardation and is prevented by not drinking during pregnancy.
bulletWomen are more likely than men to develop cirrhosis of the liver and other related diseases.
bulletWomen are more likely than men to use prescription medicines with alcohol, which can be very dangerous.
bulletThe course of alcohol addiction progresses at a faster rate among women than men.
bulletStudies indicate that moderate drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.
bulletOver 60% of adult Texas women drink every month.
bulletBecause heavy drinking is less socially accepted in women, they more often hide their drinking. Also, women's drinking problems are more frequently misdiagnosed.
bulletWomen are heavily targeted for marketing of alcoholic beverages.

Other information on women and alcohol and other drug abuse can be found at Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs among Women from the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence.

If you would like to know more about the above information or about Council services, please call (713) 942-4100 or e-mail us at

Sources:"Alcohol Facts for Women," Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse; "Characteristics of Adults Clients Admitted to TCADA-Funded Treatment Programs: Jan 1 through Sept. 30, 1998," Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse;

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Drinking Gender Gap

Men and women do absorb and metabolize alcohol in different ways. There are also important differences in their responses to many of alcohol’s potentially damaging effects.

Is there a difference in the way men and women process alcohol?


Yes, men and women do absorb and metabolize alcohol in different ways. There are also important differences in their responses to many of alcohol’s potentially damaging effects.

For starters, alcohol enters and leaves the bloodstreams of women more quickly. A recent article in the journal Alcohol Research and Health reviewing the effects of moderate drinking in men and women reported that men experience a slower rise and a lower peak in alcohol levels in their blood than women after consuming one or two alcoholic drinks. It also found that men eliminate alcohol from their bodies more slowly than women.

The study’s authors believe that one of the reasons for the quicker rise and higher values of blood alcohol levels in women is that they have less total water in their bodies than men of the same body weight. So, there is less water for the alcohol to dissolve in, resulting in higher concentrations in women’s bodies.

The reason for the more rapid disappearance of alcohol from the bloodstreams of women is less clear. It may be that women have proportionately larger livers (where most alcohol is processed) that are capable of more efficiently breaking down this substance.

Despite these findings, interpreting gender differences about the metabolism of alcohol requires caution. Richard Wilsnack, PhD, professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks, N.D., says that the importance of these differences can get exaggerated as well as underestimated.

For example, eating a large meal can dramatically delay alcohol absorption in your body -- so much, in fact, that the usually rapid absorption in women may become irrelevant.

In addition, women experience a greater degree of impairment than men following moderate alcohol intake in the performance of certain mental tasks, say the review authors. These include decision-making, short and long-term memory, and the ability to perform more than one activity at a time. The last is particularly important to note, as driving a car takes coordinating several activities at once.

Regardless of gender differences, remember to drink in moderation.

2000 Healtheon/WebMD. All rights reserved.

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Page 7: Critical Information For Women Surrounding Alcohol

Men and women do not respond to alcohol in the same way. Current research indicates that women are not as efficient "drinking machines" as men. There are many factors that influence this difference.


  1. Body size is the first factor. Women are, on the average, built smaller than men. Therefore, equal amounts of alcohol cause a higher blood alcohol concentration in women due to the smaller blood volume.
  2. Body composition is the second factor. The average female carries more body fat than a male. Body fat contains little water. When consumed, alcohol dilutes in water. Therefore, a female has less body water to dilute alcohol in, causing a higher blood alcohol concentration, even if two equally sized men and women drink the same amount of alcohol.
  3. The third factor is a metabolizing enzyme that helps rid the body of alcohol called alcohol dehydrogenase. Women have less of this enzyme than men do. Therefore, more of the alcohol that women drink enters the blood stream as pure alcohol, and stays there.
  4. Finally, a woman’s response to alcohol is increased due to hormonal changes when a woman is about to have her period, or is taking the birth control pill.

For these reasons, women can expect more impairment from alcohol than men consuming an equal dose of alcohol. Preliminary research suggests that women develop problems with alcohol more quickly and severely than men do. Therefore to reduce your risk, it is suggested that women limit their consumption to no more than one drink per hour, no more than one drink per day, and never more than four times per week.

Remember, this is not an issue of equality, but one of health!