By James N. Martin, Jr, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
For many Americans, having a couple of drinks to unwind at the end of the day or to connect socially with friends is a fun and occasional indulgence. But for a growing number of women who drink, these occasions have gone from few-and-far-between to routine.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause a slew of negative physical, social, and mental consequences in women such as decreased fertility, menstrual disorders, heart and liver problems, injuries, seizures, malnutrition, and an increased risk of breast, liver, rectal, and head and neck cancers. Loss of income, child neglect or abuse, altered judgment, driving under the influence, and depression may also occur.
So how much is too much? Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men. It’s recommended that women drink less because, pound for pound, they have less water in their bodies to help dilute alcohol and its toxic by-products than men, making them more vulnerable to alcohol-related health problems at lower levels of alcohol intake.
Serving size also matters. One drink equals five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, eight to nine ounces of malt liquor, or 1.5 ounces (one shot glass) of 80-proof spirits. The large drinks commonly served at bars and restaurants can easily pack three or more servings of alcohol, not to mention hundreds of empty calories.
Thirteen percent of women in the US consume more than seven alcoholic drinks each week. More than one-quarter of women aged 18–25 binge drink, meaning they consume more than three drinks per occasion. Binge drinking causes a sudden peak in the blood alcohol, which can lead to unsafe behavior and a higher risk of reproductive and organ damage.
Many of us don’t realize that we drink too much. Understanding what a reasonable level of consumption is may be enough to encourage some people to cut back. However, others may find that it is hard to curb their drinking or may not stop drinking even though it threatens their health, safety, or relationships. These are signs of alcohol dependence. Women are often more reluctant than men to admit that they need help or have an addiction, fearing repercussions at work or with the police, social isolation, or the loss of their children. But the sooner the problem is addressed, the better.
If you think you may have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor. He or she can be an excellent resource for advice and information and can refer you to support groups that can help.
For more information, the Patient Education Pamphlet “Alcohol and Women” is available at www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/. ?
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