Women feel the effects of alcohol faster than men because they have a higher fat-to-water ratio. A woman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases at a faster rate than a man’s, even when comparing individuals of the same height and weight.
Why do females become intoxicated faster than males? Females get drunk faster because of differences in body water content and hormonal changes during menstruation. In that week before a woman’s period, alcohol metabolism slows, causing the effects of alcohol to increase. Differences at the enzyme level also help men metabolize alcohol more efficiently than women.
That science is what’s behind recommendations on what’s considered “moderate drinking.” The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) suggest one drink per day or less for women and 2 drinks per day or less for men. That’s quite the big difference!
You may even find that the benefits of joining all those sober female celebrities sound pretty good in the end.
3 Reasons Women Metabolize Alcohol Differently Than Men
Gender differences in how alcohol metabolizes in the body is a complicated subject. What we do know is that women metabolize alcohol differently than men.
How efficiently does a female metabolize alcohol? On average, men and women metabolize alcohol at a rate of about 0.015g/100mL per hour. The difference in men isn’t the “speed” of metabolism, but the efficiency.
Certainly, what you had to eat that day, how fast you were drinking, and even medications you’re on will influence alcohol’s effects on your body. Biological differences factor in, too, and are important to consider when consuming alcohol.
Body water content, enzyme levels, even hormonal processes mean more alcohol will hit a woman’s bloodstream faster, no matter the quantity of alcohol consumed.
1. Less Water In The Body
Body weight matters when you drink alcohol. People with a larger body mass or a higher body fat percentage have a slower rate of alcohol absorption. Generally, male and female bodies differ in body mass, and the body has more ways to diffuse alcohol in a man.
Men and women have differences in body water content, as well, that may matter even more.
Percentages can fluctuate over time, but on average, a man’s body weight is made up of about 55-65% water. In comparison, a woman’s body weight is 45-55% water on average.
That higher body water content dilutes any alcohol consumed. This keeps a man’s BAC lower than a woman’s, no matter how much alcohol each person consumed on any given night.
All bets are off if they’re at a sober bar, of course.
2. Lower Enzyme Levels
Differences in enzyme levels allow men to process alcohol more efficiently than women.
Men have higher concentrations of the enzyme gastric alcohol dehydrogenase that helps them metabolize alcohol faster.
That enzyme breaks down more of the alcohol in the stomach before it reaches the bloodstream, a direct effect on blood alcohol levels.
3. Increased Hormonal Fluctuations
Hormonal differences in women are also at play, including where a woman is on her menstrual cycle when indulging in alcohol.
Alcohol research studies have found that a woman is at peak intoxication potential the week before her period. The immediate effects of intoxication — slowed reaction times, slurred speech, even loss of inhibitions — seem to last longer during the week before a woman’s period, too.
That means it can take women longer to sober up than men.
A classic ethanol study showed that women on contraceptives like birth control pills showed similar effects. However, more research is needed as contraceptives have changed since the original 1984 study.
Heavy Drinking In Females
Binge drinking for both men and women is defined as drinking enough that your BAC rises to 0.08%. In women, that’s typically around 4 drinks over 2 hours.
Heavy drinking for women is defined as 8 or more drinks per week. For men, it’s 15 or more drinks per week.
Binge drinking and overall alcohol consumption remain higher in men. The number of women who engage in binge drinking and heavy drinking is on the rise, though, despite the popularity of trends like dry January.
Alcohol use spiked during COVID-19 in particular, with one study showing that women increased their heavy drinking by 41% throughout the pandemic.
Another study showed that women used alcohol to cope with the stress of the pandemic more than men. The study also suggested that there may be more long-term effects for women linked to that increase in drinking.
According to the CDC, 13% of women overall identify themselves as binge drinkers.
What are some of the effects of alcohol on the body? The long-term effects of alcohol include high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and a higher risk for some cancers and chronic conditions.
For women, those long-term effects on the body can be even worse.
Health Reasons For Women To Drink Less
In the short term, alcohol can impair your judgment, disrupt your sleep, and put you in a higher risk category for accidents and blackouts.
In both men and women, drinking less has several long-term health benefits, with improved longevity overall at the top of the list.
Long-term, excessive alcohol use has been linked to:
- Weight gain
- Increased cancer risk
- Cardiovascular problems
- Diabetes complications
- Liver problems (e.g., fatty liver disease, hepatitis)
- Weakened immune system
- Alcohol abuse
Women are at an added disadvantage when it comes to the long-term health effects of alcohol. Excessive drinking puts women at an increased risk for:
- Cirrhosis: Excessive alcohol consumption is a common culprit behind liver cirrhosis and a diseased liver. The risk for women is even higher, a link back to those enzymes.
- High blood pressure/stroke/heart conditions: Women who drink are at higher risk than men for various heart problems and conditions that can impact cardiovascular health.
- Breast cancer: Binge and heavy drinking are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. This is most obvious when you look at the alcohol consumption of teenagers and young adults.
- Addiction: Studies show women are at a higher risk for developing an addiction to alcohol and more intense withdrawal symptoms than men if they quit drinking. Women are also at a greater risk for relapse when giving up alcohol.
Looking For Flavor Without Intoxication?
It may not seem right, but the science doesn’t lie. Women get intoxicated faster than men and can suffer more significant effects in both the short- and long-term.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
Surely has non-alcoholic wine options for you that taste delicious and won’t have you worried about the amount of alcohol you’re drinking.
- High blood alcohol levels in women. The role of decreased gastric alcohol dehydrogenase activity and first-pass metabolism
- Response to alcohol in women: role of the menstrual cycle and a family history of alcoholism
- Ethanol metabolism in women taking oral contraceptives
- Excessive Alcohol Use
- Gender Differences in Binge Drinking
- Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US
- Drinking to cope with the pandemic: The unique associations of COVID-19-related perceived threat and psychological distress to drinking behaviors in American men and women
- Alcohol-use disorders
- Alcohol effects on cardiac function
- Alcohol and the Liver: The Return of the Prodigal Son
- Opposing effects of alcohol on the immune system
- Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Liver Cirrhosis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Alcohol intake and associated risk of major cardiovascular outcomes in women compared with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies
- Links between alcohol consumption and breast cancer: a look at the evidence
- Sex differences in addiction