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The Gender-Neutral Truth About Alcoholism

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines an alcohol use disorder (also commonly known as an “AUD” or “alcoholism”) as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”

When it comes to having an AUD, it really doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman. If you’re struggling with an alcohol addiction, it will bring you to your knees.

Alcoholism will destroy your most cherished relationships with the important people in your life. It will annihilate your body and cause devastating health conditions. It has the potential to wreck you financially. It can create legal difficulties, problems at work, and mental health issues.

And, when it is all said and done, alcoholism will leave you powerless, in the fetal position, wondering how your life became so completely unmanageable. (This all happens, of course, if you don’t die from an alcohol-related death first){:target=”_blank”}.

Alcoholism Does Affect Men and Women Differently

To be sure, there are some stark similarities when it comes to how an AUD can destroy a man or woman’s life. In many ways, alcoholism doesn’t discriminate.

That being said, it is important to understand that an AUD does seem to affect men and women differently in very specific ways. We’ve given you a snapshot of the universal experience that happens when alcoholism goes untreated. Now, let’s talk about how alcohol addiction affects men and women differently.

Men and Alcoholism – What Do the Statistics Tell Us?

According to all the data available on the topic of men and alcoholism, men are at a significantly greater risk to develop an alcohol addiction than women – by a lot.

In fact, some estimates suggest that men are as much as four times more likely to be afflicted with alcoholism than women. This is evidenced by a NIAAA report, which states that of the 88,000 people who die every year from alcohol-related death, an astounding 62,000 are men and only 26,000 are women.

It is unclear why men are more likely to become alcoholic drinkers than women. However; one study suggests that the release of dopamine may be a huge factor. This research revealed that men produce more dopamine (one of the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters) while drinking, which reinforces continued drinking because it feels so good. It also showed that men are more likely to develop a tolerance to alcohol than women are, making them more likely to drink larger quantities of alcohol.

Here are some other interesting facts about men and alcoholism, provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Approximately 58 percent of all adult men reportedly drank alcohol within the last month.
  • Approximately 23 percent of men engage in binge-drinking at least five times per month, with an average of eight drinks per binge.
  • Men are approximately two times more likely to binge drink than women.
  • About 4.5 percent of all men meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence.
  • Among all drivers involved in fatal motor-vehicle accidents, men are about twice as likely as women to have been intoxicated at the time of the accident.
  • Men consistently have higher rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations than women.
  • Men commit suicide more often than women (by about four times) and are much more likely to have been drinking alcohol when they committed suicide.
  • Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon in men.
  • An AUD can interfere with male hormone production and testicular function. This can result erectile dysfunction and infertility.

These statistics are sobering, to say the least. Because of social stigma, many men are not willing to admit they need help when their drinking gets out of hand. Cultural expectations can lead men to believe they are weak or “less of a man” if they admit defeat. This can have tragic consequences. It takes great strength and courage to commit to a rehabilitation program when alcohol is ruining your life.

Is your husband battling an addiction to alcohol? This article might help.

What Do We Know About Women and Alcoholism?

Just because men are more likely to develop an AUD doesn’t mean women aren’t at risk. In fact, research indicates that women are drinking more alcohol now than ever before.

According to the CDC, the number of women who died from cirrhosis and chronic liver disease (two of the most common alcohol-related health complications) increased by 18 percent for 25 to 44-year-olds and a whopping 57 percent for 45 to 64-year-olds from 2000-2015.

It is unclear why more women are developing an AUD, although some addiction experts believe this is caused by increased stress. Cultural roles have changed dramatically for women in the past 20 years. Many mothers are working a full-time job and raising children alone and turning to alcohol to cope.

Here are some other relevant facts about how alcoholism affects women, provided by the CDC:

  • About 46 percent of women reportedly drank alcohol within the last month.
  • Approximately 12 percent of all women engage in binge-drinking three times a month with an average of five drinks per binge.
  • About 2.5 percent of all women met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year.
  • About 10 percent of pregnant women drink alcohol.
  • Excessive drinking may disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle and increase the risk of infertility.
  • Women who binge drink are more likely to engage in unprotected sex and have multiple sex partners. These risky sexual behaviors increase the likelihood of unintended pregnancy and STDS.
  • Women are more vulnerable than men to the brain-damaging effects of excessive alcohol use than men.
  • Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for heart damage than men.

Without a doubt, women are susceptible to suffering from the negative effects of alcoholism just like men are. There is no shame in having an addiction to alcohol. As mothers, many women will not go to treatment because they don’t want to be away from their children. In these situations, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is always an option.

The Takeaway? Alcohol Addiction is Bad for Everybody

At Experience Recovery, we recognize that an AUD can affect men and women in different ways. But, in the end, do these differences really matter? Isn’t it the similarities we should focus on? Alcoholism is a dangerous disorder with devastating (and even deadly) consequences. It brings pain and suffering to men and women alike – and their families.

Whether you are a man or a woman, you can get help for an Alcohol Use Disorder here at Experience Recovery. No matter how hopeless things may seem now, or how helpless you feel; there is hope and help is available.

Not sure if you’re an alcoholic? Take this self-assessment and find out.

Have a loved one who is addicted to alcohol? Here’s how you can help.